FCC Announcement to Regulate Speech on Social Media Facilitates Election Disinformation and Undermines Democracy

Today, Federal Communications Commission Chairman (FCC) Ajit Pai issued a statement announcing that the FCC will move forward with a rulemaking to clarify the scope of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. The announcement follows an Executive Order from the President and a petition for rulemaking from the Department of Commerce directing the FCC to adopt rules that set conditions on when Section 230 grants social media platforms a liability shield when they moderate content on their sites and when they do not.

In August, Common Cause joined a lawsuit challenging the President’s Executive Order. The lawsuit explains that the Executive Order is a retaliatory move in response to Twitter fact-checking inaccurate tweets from the President about the processes for mail-in-voting. The lawsuit also argues that the Executive Order violates social media platforms’ First Amendment protections to curate and fact-check content and ensure that accurate information, including how to register to vote and cast a ballot on Election Day, is not undermined by misinformation

Statement of Michael Copps, Common Cause Special Adviser and Former FCC Commissioner

The Chairman’s announcement to move forward with a rulemaking to police speech on social media platforms marks a sad day for the FCC, an independent agency, to be dictated to by Trump on Section 230.  Chairman Pai meets himself coming around the corner thinking he can regulate digital platforms despite repealing net neutrality and abdicating the agency’s authority to regulate broadband.

By initiating a rulemaking, the FCC is doing the bidding of the President – to put political pressure on social media platforms that would prevent them from taking any action to correct blatant disinformation he spreads online, particularly content that would suppress the votes of American citizens. It’s no surprise that the Chairman’s announcement comes weeks before the election when social media platforms are taking more steps to curb the spread of election disinformation.

The Chairman should not use government resources to facilitate the spread of election disinformation on social media platforms but instead move away from a rulemaking that can have serious legal and policy implications for the role of our government, our ability to access accurate information about voting procedures, and the way we communicate online.