Trump Executive Order Could Make FCC, FTC Social Media Censors

The White House is drafting an Executive Order that would give the Federal Communications Commission oversight on what social media operators can allow on their websites, and increase the Federal Trade Commission's investigative powers and ability to sue offending companies. The proposal would significantly restrict protections of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

Reports from CNN and Politico about the Executive Order draft emerged just as the White House hosted a Friday meeting of technology companies to explore online violent rhetoric and images. President Donald Trump signaled plans for such an effort to crackdown on liberal bias online during a "social media summit" (mostly for conservative "journalists and influencers") on July 11.

Related: Trump Looks to Enforce Fairness on Social Media 

CNN reported that it reviewed a summary of the proposed Executive Order, tentatively (and somewhat counter-intuitively) titled "Protecting Americans from Online Censorship." A White House official declined to discuss the draft. According to CNN, the summary claims that the White House has received more than 15,000 complaints of social media platforms censoring American political discourse.

The plan would give the FCC authority to identify social media sites that do not qualify for the 'good-faith immunity" of Section 230, according to CNN. The proposal also calls for the FCC to develop new regulations to clarify how and when social media websites can remove or suppress content.

The rules would affect platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Google and other technology firms that curate content on their sites. The proposal envisions that the FTC would create a "public complaint docket" and would work with the FCC to develop a report on how tech firms curate their platforms and whether they do so in a neutral way, according to CNN's coverage.

Any company with a user base of at least one-eighth of the U.S. population would be subject to scrutiny, according to the draft.

Politico quoted an unnamed White House official as explaining that, “If the Internet is going to be presented as this egalitarian platform and most of Twitter is liberal cesspools of venom, then at least the President wants some fairness in the system.”

Analysts have pointed out that agencies will not be able to draft rules or enforce objectives without Congressional action.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), who wrote Section 230, characterized the Trump plan as "horrible" and told CNN that neither the FCC nor the FTC appear eager "to carry it out."

Sources told Washington reporters that the Executive Order has been in development for a considerable period and is subject to change; they also acknowledged that there is no timetable for issuing the Executive Order. Neither the FTC nor FCC had any immediate comment on the proposal.

Contributor Gary Arlen is known for his insights into the convergence of media, telecom, content and technology. Gary was founder/editor/publisher of Interactivity Report, TeleServices Report and other influential newsletters; he was the longtime “curmudgeon” columnist for Multichannel News as well as a regular contributor to AdMap, Washington Technology and Telecommunications Reports. He writes regularly about trends and media/marketing for the Consumer Technology Association's i3 magazine plus several blogs. Gary has taught media-focused courses on the adjunct faculties at George Mason University and American University and has guest-lectured at MIT, Harvard, UCLA, University of Southern California and Northwestern University and at countless media, marketing and technology industry events. As President of Arlen Communications LLC, he has provided analyses about the development of applications and services for entertainment, marketing and e-commerce.