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FCC's Wheeler Connects With Zuckerberg

WASHINGTON -- Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler has "connected" with Facebook chairman, CEO and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg about the issue of social media and violence, according to an agency source speaking on background.

The source did not characterize the conversation, but said the bottom line for the chairman remains that the FCC does not regulate "edge providers" such as Facebook, the popular social-networking platform.

A group of legislators sent a letter to Wheeler last week seeking more information following his testimony at a House oversight hearing. At that hearing, several legislators wondered, in the wake of the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris, if the FCC could do something to shut down web sites that endorsed violence.

Wheeler said at the time that the government might be able to get at the issue via its definition of a "lawful intercept," but that was something Congress would have to define and update. Wheeler pointed to reports the Paris attackers were using PlayStation 4 to communicate. He also said network security was an issue. Wheeler promised to work with the committee if it needed to update its laws.

Among those concerned about the issue of violence and social media at the hearing was Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), whose question about what the FCC could do to combat the use of social media to incite or endorse violence by gangs drew the Wheeler pledge to contact Zuckerberg that day (Nov. 18). Rush asked in his follow-up question about the status of the Zuckerberg conversation.

Wheeler had told Rush he would be happy to use the FCC's bully pulpit and "talk to Mark Zuckerberg and others" to raise the issue. "I will call Mark Zuckerberg this afternoon and I am sure he is concerned about it as well and will have some thoughts," he said.

Wheeler and Zuckerberg did not connect at that time (on Nov. 18), an FCC spokesperson confirmed to Multichannel News at the time, though members of their staffs did talk.

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.