Trump Social Media Order Gets Mixed FCC Review

The FCC commissioners are definitely divided over President Trump's executive order on getting the FCC involved in regulating online platforms.  

The President issued an executive order Thursday (May 28) directing the National Telecommunications & Information Administration, the White House's chief communications policy advisor, to propose an FCC rulemaking to "clarify the circumstances under which a provider of an interactive computer service that restricts access to content" is not protected from liability because it is deceptive and thus violates the platform's terms of service. 

Related: Trump Issues Social Media Executive Order

One one side is Democrat Jessica Rosenworcel, who was quick to criticize the proposal.  

“This does not work," she said. "Social media can be frustrating. But an Executive Order that would turn the Federal Communications Commission into the President’s speech police is not the answer. It’s time for those in Washington to speak up for the First Amendment. History won’t be kind to silence.” 

Fellow Democrat Geoffrey Starks was not as definitive, but suggested there were other things the Trump Administration should be prioritizing. 

“I’ll review the final Executive Order when it’s released and assess its impact on the FCC, but one thing is clear: the First Amendment and Section 230 remain the law of the land and control here," he said. "Our top priority should be connecting all Americans to high quality, affordable broadband. The fight against COVID-19 has made closing the digital divide—and helping all Americans access education, work, and healthcare online—more critical than ever. We must keep our focus on that essential work.”  

Related: Trump Threatens to Shut Down Social Media 

Republican Brendan Carr was solidly behind the President, whose order he suggested was workable.  

"President Trump’s Executive Order on Online Censorship is welcome news!," he said. "I look forward to receiving the Administration’s petition for rulemaking and taking action." 

Carr said he welcomed guidance on "the scope of the unique and conditional set of legal privileges that Congress conferred on social media companies but not other set of speakers in Sec. 230." 

Republican Michael O'Rielly had no comment on the order's release, but did tweet on news of the draft earlier in the day, asking everyone to "take a deep breath, but adding that the President "has right to seek review of [a] statute’s application," adding: "As a conservative, I’m troubled voices are stifled by liberal tech leaders. At same time, I’m extremely dedicated to First Amendment which governs much here." 

FCC chairman Ajit Pai did not show his hand, only saying: "This debate is an important one. The Federal Communications Commission will carefully review any petition for rulemaking filed by the Department of Commerce," which is basically saying the FCC will do its job. 

John Eggerton

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.