FCC Chairman Ajit Pai Says Commission Will Work to Clarify Section 230

NRB | October 15, 2020 | Advocacy

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai announced Thursday that he intends to move forward with a rulemaking to clarify the meaning of Section 230 of the Communications Act.

Presently, Section 230 protects internet companies from liability for what users post on their platforms and also includes a section facilitating their “Good Samaritan” blocking of offensive content by defending them from lawsuits based on content their moderation efforts may have missed.

This extra layer of protection, however, has given Big Tech the ability to censor, block, and impede otherwise lawful and non-injurious citizen viewpoints on the web.

“Throughout my tenure at the Federal Communications Commission, I have favored regulatory parity, transparency, and free expression,” stated Pai. “Social media companies have a First Amendment right to free speech. But they do not have a First Amendment right to a special immunity denied to other media outlets, such as newspapers and broadcasters.”

Over the past decade NRB has been monitoring, documenting, and advocating against threats of anti-Christian censorship and other free speech violations on the internet. It has also made repeated requests to Big Tech leaders to craft for their companies a free speech charter that applies the wisdom of the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment, noting that those freedoms have been “refined by centuries of jurisprudence” and would still permit the platforms to “combat obscenity, incitements to violence, and the like, without unduly burdening free expression with an array of confusing and haphazardly applied speech codes.”

However, with growing evidence of censorship of Christian and conservative viewpoints on social media platforms – and after Big Tech leaders failed to take concrete steps for free speech – NRB last year suggested that it was time for lawmakers to explore further what may be the costs and benefits of removing or conditionally suspending Section 230’s extra layer of government-granted content moderation protection for ubiquitous platforms suspected of acting in bad faith.

“While NRB is against heavy-handed government interventions, we feel a review of Section 230 is in order given the inaction of Big Tech leaders,” said NRB CEO Troy Miller. “We applaud Chairman Pai for taking decisive action and working to bring us closer to a solution to the growing problem of online censorship.”

Over the past year, Congress has introduced a number of bills to address the issue of censorship on social media platforms, including the Ending Support for Internet Censorship Act, the Limiting Section 230 Immunity to Good Samaritans Act, the Platform Accountability and Consumer Transparency Act, the Online Freedom and Viewpoint Diversity Act, and most recently the Protect Speech Act.

Moreover, as Pai noted in his announcement Thursday, the U.S. Department of Commerce has petitioned the Commission to “clarify ambiguities in section 230.”  And earlier this week, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas pointed out that courts have relied upon “policy and purpose arguments to grant sweeping protections to Internet platforms” that appear to go far beyond the actual text of the provision.

“Members of all three branches of the federal government have expressed serious concerns about the prevailing interpretation of the immunity set forth in Section 230 of the Communications Act,” the FCC Chairman reported. “There is bipartisan support in Congress to reform the law.”

According the FCC’s General Counsel, the Commission has the legal authority to interpret Section.

“Consistent with this advice, I intend to move forward with a rulemaking to clarify its meaning,” Pai said.

Also among those who applauded the FCC Chairman’s announcement was FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr, who has been among those who have called for the FCC to take action and do its part to rein in Big Tech.

“Chairman Pai is right that the FCC has legal authority to interpret Section 230, and I applaud his leadership in announcing the FCC will move forward with clarifying the statute,” he expressed in a statement.

“Moving forward at the FCC will bring much-needed clarity to Section 230 and close the loopholes that Big Tech has exploited. These reforms will promote ‘a forum for a true diversity of political discourse,’ as Congress envisioned when it passed Section 230, without limiting the First Amendment rights of any speaker,” he continued.

“I commend Chairman Pai for his leadership on this issue, and I look forward to the FCC taking expeditious action.”

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