Wheeler, Zuckerberg Yet to Connect

During an FCC oversight hearing in the House Communications Subcommittee this week, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler pledged to call that day (Dec. 17) to talk with Mark Zuckerberg about the use of the Internet by terrorists and gangs.

That was prompted by questions, in the wake of the Paris attacks and ongoing urban violence, about whether the FCC could to anything to disrupt social media or other Internet communications used by terrorists.

An FCC source confirmed on background that the chairman had indeed made the call, but at press time Thursday had yet to connect with the Facebook founder, though the source added their staffers have engaged on the issue.

But Wheeler made clear during the hearing that the FCC does not regulate edge providers, and the source said the commission understands that Facebook works aggressively to make sure terrorists and terrorist groups are not using their site, removing content that supports them.

Facebook's policy, "clarified" back in March in an update to its community standards, is that no organization involved in "terrorist activity or organized criminal activity" can have a Facebook page, in addition to removing any content that "expresses support for groups that are involved in [that] violent or criminal behavior. Supporting or praising leaders of those same organizations, or condoning their violent activities, is not allowed."

"We do not have jurisdiction over Facebook and all the other edge providers," Wheeler said at the hearing, adding that the FCC does not intend to assert jurisdiction over them. He assured Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) that he would use his bully pulpit to contact Zuckerberg. "I'm happy to talk to Mark Zuckerberg and others and say, 'hey, this is important, we need to be in this together, but we don't have regulatory authority."

Rush encouraged him, and Wheeler replied. "I will call Mark Zuckerberg this afternoon to raise the issues you've raised [about gang use of social media] and the issue that [Rep. Joe] Barton has raised [about terrorist use]," said Wheeler, "and I'm sure he [Zuckerberg] is concerned about it as well and he'll have some thoughts."

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.