Trump's FCC Nominee Asked Fox News To Help Destroy Section 230 To Help Elect More Republicans

from the free-speech? dept

We’ve written a few times about Nathan Simington, who is currently nominated to take over Michael O’Rielly’s seat at the FCC. As you’ll recall, O’Rielly’s renomination was withdrawn after he dared to give a talk in which he noted, accurately, that the 1st Amendment means that the government cannot regulate how private companies handle content moderation. Simington, in contrast to O’Rielly, has been at the center of various efforts to force social media companies to host speech they do not wish to host (a clear violation of the 1st Amendment, which does not allow for the government to compel speech).

Simington was the guy who apparently wrote the original executive order that kicked off the ridiculous (and still unconstitutional) FCC review process of Section 230. He also works at NTIA, which is run by Adam Candeub, a guy who has spent the last few years attacking (or misrepresenting) Section 230, after he filed a failed lawsuit against Twitter on behalf of a white supremacist. When the lawsuit was filed, Candeub appeared not to understand 230 when I engaged with him in an email exchange. Since then he’s spent the intervening years, trying to change 230 to match his false belief of what it should be.

So, perhaps it shouldn’t be too surprising that it’s now been revealed that Simington and Candeub appeared to spend some time over the summer trying to get Fox News’ bloviating talking heads to start attacking Section 230 as well, hoping that this would spur the FCC on towards action (again, which legally it cannot do) against the law.

Simington, a senior adviser in a key Commerce Department tech agency, wrote that the popular Fox News host could help sway the FCC to act on Trump’s proposal before Election Day. He also suggested that democracy hinged on the ability of the commission ? which has not traditionally regulated social media ? to target Silicon Valley companies.

The actual letter to a Fox News staffer, in which Simington notes that this is part of a scheme with Candeub (who is cc’d) is really stunning. Having a government official asking a media personality to assist the government in pushing through an unconstitutional attack on the 1st Amendment is staggering — and should immediately raise questions as to why either Simington or Candeub are part of the government. Simington flat out admits that he’s trying to force the FCC to take action to help support the President and others “down ballot” in the election.

That is not supposed to be how government officials act. Campaigning/electioneering efforts are not supposed to be done by current government staff who are paid by our taxpayer dollars. This is a hugely problematic stance, and should call into question both Simington and Candeub’s role in government. It certainly should preclude Simington from being considered for a position on the FCC itself.

As discussed, my boss, Dept. Ass’t Sec’y Adam Candeub (CC’d), is strategizing about how best to present the NTIA’s petition to the FCC re CDA 230. We hope that FCC rulemaking will uphold press and communication freedoms while restraining social media companies from behavior that, absent certain case law re CDA 230, would be illegal.

As you know, this is a hot issue right now, not merely per the President’s major social media executive order, but also (1) Senator Cruz’s recent actions re Twitter, coming out of his long-standing concerns about the partiality and bias emerging from social media’s de facto content creation via moderation, promotion and demotion, and (2) Senator Hawley’s new social media bill.

We therefore hope that there might be some way of engaging with Ms. Ingraham on our piece of this issue. Any additional support we might be able to obtain could help to get the FCC on board more quickly and thereby ensure a freer, fairer social media landscape going into the elections this fall. This is of concern both to the presidency and also down-ballot, and given the emerging role of social media as a replacement for mass media, our democracy will be weakened if we cannot respond to this issue quickly and effectively.

If you have some time tomorrow, I’d love to talk further about this, whether re engaging with Ms. Ingraham or generally for our own planning.

Senator Richard Blumenthal (a long term vocal critic of Section 230) seems to recognize how problematic this is:

?This email shows that Mr. Simington was an active and eager soldier in President Trump?s attempted assault on the First Amendment,” Blumenthal said in a statement to POLITICO. “Mr. Simington was willing to bully the very agency he?s been nominated to join in order to do the electoral bidding of the Republican party on the taxpayer dime.

“I am demanding that Mr. Simington explain himself in follow-up questions for the record, and I certainly hope he will be more forthcoming in his written responses than he was during his hearing,”

In any normal administration this would be a massive scandal, abusing the power of government to help a specific party/candidate. Remember all the (mostly exaggerated) fuss about the IRS paying extra attention to conservative non-profits? That was one of the biggest scandals of the Obama era, in part because it was government employees supposedly making decisions based on politics (even though the details showed it wasn’t quite that bad). This is worse. Here they are flat out admitting that they are trying to work with Fox News to use the levers of government to unconstitutionally change the law in order to help their preferred political party win in an election.

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Comments on “Trump's FCC Nominee Asked Fox News To Help Destroy Section 230 To Help Elect More Republicans”

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30 Comments
This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
That One Guy (profile) says:

'That. That is exactly what and who we want in office.'

This is a hugely problematic stance, and should call into question both Simington and Candeub’s role in government. It certainly should preclude Simington from being considered for a position on the FCC itself.

You’d think so, but for people who hate the first amendment and would really like it if they could force platforms to stop kicking assholes off someone making clear they see no problem with a government employee working with private companies to undermine the first amendment and laws that protect free speech is a real good selling point.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: 'That. That is exactly what and who we want in office.'

I don’t think there are any people who want to force platformw to stop kicking assholes in general off. I do think there are assholes who wish they could stop platroms from kicking themselves off and there are people who wish they could stop platforms from kicking their assholes off.

For some people "free speech" really does seem to mean "we and others professing our beliefs should be free to broadcast said beliefs anywhere we choose with no consequencs, but everyone else should just shut up".

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: 'That. That is exactly what and who we want in office.'

A fair point, one need only look at the cesspit that is Parler and those that defend it to see perfect examples of people who decried the ‘tyranny of social media platforms’ due to them kicking people off for being disruptive assholes make a complete 180 when it comes to their platform and disruptive assholes not on their side.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Thad (profile) says:

Re: In all Honesty...

When the Senate comes back from recess, Kelly will replace McSally (as this was a special election, he’ll be taking office as soon as the results are certified, rather than wait until the new congressional term in January). That will bring the number of Republican senators down to 52. 50 votes plus Pence is enough to confirm.

I think they’ll probably try. They want to keep Trump happy going into the Georgia runoffs. They tried to ram his Fed pick, Judy Shelton, through, but were unable to because Collins, Romney, and Alexander all voted against confirmation and Grassley and Rick Scott were quarantined with COVID-19 and unable to attend the confirmation vote.

So, the next question is, is this scandal bad enough to get at least three Republican defections (or, alternately, will any other Republicans be unable to vote due to illness)?

On the plus side, if he is confirmed, he’s still going to be in the minority come January.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re:

Oh, if only that would happen.

But the Republican Party has become the Trumpian Party. They allowed an elderly game show host with a bad combover and a penchant for fascism to become the face of the party — and they have yet to repudiate him because of that fact. His voter base is loud, spiteful, and willing to do practically anything for him…which includes voting “traitors” out of office and replacing them with “loyalists”.

Everything Trump has done from his inauguration to now, and everything he will do from now until his death, will control the GOP. They had one chance to repudiate Trump and Trumpism, and they didn’t have the moral courage to vote him out of office because they wanted conservative judges on federal benches.

Trump will survive losing the presidency. I’ve little doubt that he will either mount another campaign in 2024 or endorse a loyalist (possibly one of his children) to run “for him”. The Republican Party, on the other hand, won’t survive in the long-term. They have attempted to discredit and undermine the democracy of the United States, “governed” in bad faith, and put their desires for power and wealth and control above the common good of the country. As demographics shift and the party shows their true selves, the GOP will move ever closer to irrelevance.

Trumpism will stick around for a good long while, even (and especially) after Donald Trump dies. The Republican Party will see to that…whether they like it or not.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: That sword cuts both ways

After four years of backing him to the hilt, whether via telling silence if not active support the GOP has irredeemably become Trump’s GOP, and while I’m sure many if not almost all of them are quite happy with how helpful he’s been in stacking the judicial deck and drawing in some very energetic new members for his cult where anything goes I suspect that it’s only a matter of time until all but the most deranged start to realize just what kind of Very Fine People they now have to appease to survive in the cult, and how easy it is for them to be thrown to the wolves for insubordination or heresy.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Despite his blatant "I am not a racist" racism, the number of blacks and hispanics voting for him appear to have increased, while he lost some senior voters. If that trend continues, you can’t count on demographics to sink the republican party.

Also, Trump has been working at undermining democracy (mostly American, but elsewhere in the world too) more than anything else during his presidency. The only saving grace here was that he is somewhat lazy and rather incompetent. If republicans continue on this path, America may be lost before demographics can save it.

This is not a time to relax in the comforting thought that it will all work out in the end.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
David says:

Re: Re: Re:

They have attempted to discredit and undermine the democracy of the United States, “governed” in bad faith, and put their desires for power and wealth and control above the common good of the country. As demographics shift and the party shows their true selves, the GOP will move ever closer to irrelevance.

Uh, why? They command a higher ratio of U.S. voters than Hitler’s NSDAP ever did of the German voting populace, almost half. The biggest danger to the American Way of Life, climate change, is the main topic of the Green party which is utterly irrelevant, partly through the inertia of the political system. The problems that voters make decisions about instead are mostly made-up toy problems (COVID-19, an actual albeit intermediate problem on a longer timescale, was comparatively irrelevant for people’s votes in 2020), and the Republican party is a lot better at making up catchy problems with handy scapegoats.

In addition, Republicans are "moving closer to irrelevance" at glacial speed exactly due to the inertia of the political system and thus have a solid chance at dismantling the system before it dismantles them.

And if Democrats don’t win the House, the Democrats get no opportunity at all for making the system more resilient before the next attack from Republicans hits.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Uh, why?

The primary voting bloc of the Republican/Trumpian party is an overlap of White people in general, senior citizens in general, and conservative Christian evangelicals in particular. No Republican can win a national election without them.

But as the country moves ever-so-slowly away from the White supremacist hegemony that underpins the entire American Experiment, the diversity that makes this country great will continue to flourish. And that diversity will eventually doom the GOP, since winning elections will become increasingly harder to pull off without a more diverse voter base beyond the one upon which the party currently depends.

People of color, people in non-Christian religious sects, and queer people are not monoliths — of course they’ll all have a fair share of GOP supporters (defying all logic and reason). But by and large, they tend to vote Democrat because the GOP has spent the past fifty-to-sixty years or so dehumanizing, demoralizing, and degrading everyone who doesn’t fit the GOP “standard” of what a “real citizen” of the United States looks, sounds, and acts like. And that lack of support from those demographics will eventually doom Trumpian politicians.

As you said, Trumpians are attempting to dismantle the system — voter disenfranchisement, closing off the immigration system, practically allowing a quarter-million Americans to die from COVID — before the system renders them irrelevant. And yes, Democrats not getting control of the Senate will hurt their ability to stop the bleeding, so to speak. But Trumpians have also done themselves a disservice by bending the knee for Donald Trump; in the grand scheme of things, I have to believe that will bite them on their collective ass and drag them into Hell along with their Dear Leader. To believe otherwise — to believe that the GOP can and will undo the American Experiment for the sake of a lust for money and power — is to become a pessimist of the highest order.

Our efforts may fail. Our nightmares about an openly fascist political party running the U.S. may come true. But even if that happens — or even (and especially) if the politicians we want in office get voted into office — five simple words will still ring true: The work must go on.

We cannot quit because the fight seems hopeless. We cannot stop because we watched Americans vote in a bastard like Trump (or a milquetoast like Biden). To affect change, we must move forward, one foot in front of the other, no matter the circumstances.

The work must go on.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

"…the diversity that makes this country great will continue to flourish. And that diversity will eventually doom the GOP, since winning elections will become increasingly harder to pull off without a more diverse voter base beyond the one upon which the party currently depends."

It’s nice to have hope, but I’m pretty sure I’ve heard variations of that spiel thrown out since literally forever. Let me be blunt. The US doesn’t have "diversity".
What the US has is a conglomeration of warring tribes who are all at one another’s throats with the majorities representation on any given issue being utterly united in repressing the minority representation of the issue.
Whether the "issue" is skin color, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation or favorite sport is irrelevant – the default behavior remains the same. In fact, if anything the slow creep of behavioral change has gone the other way.

"by and large, they tend to vote Democrat because the GOP has spent the past fifty-to-sixty years or so dehumanizing, demoralizing, and degrading everyone who doesn’t fit the GOP “standard” of what a “real citizen” of the United States looks, sounds, and acts like."

And today 1 in 3 americans openly applaud and cheer for exactly this. Goldwater had to wrap his message of racism and bigotry in far more spin than the current GOP and still couldn’t get 73 million votes his way. This is not racists and fascists slowly dying out – it’s them finding their wings at last and coming out of the closet.

"To believe otherwise — to believe that the GOP can and will undo the American Experiment for the sake of a lust for money and power — is to become a pessimist of the highest order."

…or a keen student of history. The American Experiment isn’t new. If anything the current state of the US is a spitting image of the last days of the Roman Republic.

"To affect change, we must move forward, one foot in front of the other, no matter the circumstances."

What you absolutely need to do is simple. There are 1 in 3 americans currently entrenched and invested in mindsets which make them utterly horrible. Who give no reciprocity to tolerance and therefore haven’t earned any.
Until the saner 70% or so of the US runs these bigots and racists into the butt-end of fringe society and keeps them there until it percolates into the next generation that being an asshole is neither acceptable nor cool…this cult of mutual misery and hatred will not stop gaining ground.

What we had to learn in europe post-ww2 is precisely this. That tolerance demands reciprocity. Those who refuse to tolerate the other should expect to gain no tolerance themselves. It took a generation worth of this to truly entrench the word "Nazi" as an ugly one. Because history is dead and the living often could not care less what the political grandparents of ideology X did to minority Y.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re:

"I look forward to the coming years of ensuring that anyone having anything to do with Trump, including the cheeto himself, gets fined and imprisoned straight out of any future involvement in politics…"

1 in 3 americans, meaning around 73 million people, view those politicians currently supporting Trump as heroes. Those people currently coming out swinging in favor of the pussy-grabber-formerly-in-chief will never want for a fanatical voter base ready and eager to forgive ANY malfeasance, no matter how public, as long as they keep making the right noises.

"Here, have mah money, mah wife and mah daughter. As long as you give dem liberals a proper beatin’!"

  • Trump voter, apparently.
Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

No, what Trump might say would be something like; "Give me your money, your wife and your daughter. She’s cute. Not as cute as my own daughter who I’d totally date. But cute. I’ll put the liberals in their place. They’re just jealous they can’t win without cheating. Nothing but suckers and losers who end up going to wars and being taken prisoner. Not like me, I always win. There’ll be so much winning you’ll be sick of it. And make america great again. I’ve got the best plan for that, and all the best words. All the Very Fine People on both sides agree with that. Except a few very loud suckers and losers. It’ll be great!"

ECA (profile) says:

DO IT. PLEASE.

Shut down 99% of the forums, and see what happens.
Forums are probably the only sites you can see Comment listed for more then a few seconds.
Then we go to OPEN/CLOSED chats.

Anyone remember what we said about closing down ‘backpage’?
Where would all those people go and talk and do Business?
Every porn site is going to have PRIVATE sections to make contacts thru.
Are they doing this on purpose or is it because those Internet corps Have not paid enough money into the Party?

Anonymous Coward says:

Concern ... down-ballot

This is of concern … down-ballot

5 CFR § 734.101 defines “political activity”:

Political activity means an activity directed toward the success or failure of a political party, candidate for partisan political office, or partisan political group.

QUESTION: Using this definition, does the part of the email which states, “This is of concern … down-ballot”, clearly indicate that the sender is engaged in “political activity”?

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
bobob says:

If republican politicians had to present the issues in a way that lays out the impact on the average voter, the republicans would fade into irrelevancy. Despite their own hypocrisy regarding private business not being interferred with by government, their survival depends on disinformation receiving equal credibility to facts and science, so targeting section 230 is hardly a surprise.

What is more surprising (but maybe not) is that so many democrats also have designs on section changing section 230, which is probably because the majority of establishment democrats are closet republicans. All of this is in spite of polling on issues rather than candidates or party affiliation places most americas to the left of both parties. The real problem is that Biden, as a very establishment democrat/closet republican is likely to go along with some changes to section 230 and ot in a way that would be desirable for the public.

NoahVail (profile) says:

There is an elegance in well formed structures of law and I feel the framers were better than most at capturing that and setting us on a path that continued it.

This story exemplifies what the absence of those structures looks like. To see this as a problem that begins and ends with one man is too narrow a view to be helpful. A better takeaway is that the fragility of the structure is on display here – that it can evaporate the moment we stop sustaining it.

Anonymous Coward says:

whatever Trump does, it reminds me of the entertainments industries. everything is self-serving and designed to take away what few rights the people have while doing whatever necessary to make the internet and access to it as restricted as possible. it amazes me how so few people can see that the aim of the entertainment industries is to get complete control of the internet and if the FCC can put in place even more restrictions, remove even more of ‘Net Neutrality than pai has already done, that is the aim. Trump’s leaving card, being the sadistic, spolit brat that he is, is to hitwith his last punch as hard as possible by giving Pai’s job to an even worse leader.

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