Wicker: Senate Commerce Will Review Sec. 230

Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), chairman of the powerful Senate Commerce Committee, signaled to the FCC commissioners Wednesday (June 24) that his committee would be looking into edge provider's Sec. 230 exemption from civil liability for how they treat third party content on their sites. 

That came in an FCC oversight hearing, where Wicker said in his opening statement: "This committee will evaluate the merits of Sec. 230 and whether modifications are necessary to promote more transparency and accountability across internet platforms and services."

President Donald Trump has signaled, via executive order, that his administration is petitioning the FCC to come up with a way to prevent censorship of political speech by those edge providers by clarifying what their terms of service allow them to do vis-a-vis Sec. 230. 

Wicker said Sec. 230 was intended to preserve a vibrant and competitive online marketplace" but said that he was "deeply troubled by recent reports that suggest some online platforms are disproportionately censoring conservative voices or imposing an unfair bias through their policies or terms of service." 

He cited reports that Google threatened to "demonetize" online magazine The Federalist (not serve ads to the site) due to "complaints by NBC News" over certain posts in The Federalist's comment section. Its publisher said it does not moderate those comments.  

Related: Hawley Joins Cruz in Google Attack 

It was his understanding, said Wicker, that the comments "were, indeed, derogatory and impermissible." But he also said that while "policing offensive content was one thing, threatening the demonitization of an entire site is quite another." 

He also cited comments by Facebook moderators that he said "seemed to confirm a blatant anti-conservative bias." 

If there is going to be a debate over the future of Sec. 230, he said--and there almost certainly is going to be--"it is clear that each side has a responsibility to insure that the internet remains a forum for a true diversity of political discourse that promotes competition and innovation."  

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.