The Pai FCC Is Oddly Quiet About Trump's Plan To Have The Agency Police Speech

from the selective-silence dept

So last week, you probably saw the leaked plan by the Trump administration to try and "fix" the nonexistent censorship of Conservatives on social media. According to the leak, a large part of the plan would involve having the FCC, which has no real authority in this area, police speech on platforms like Twitter and Facebook. Most legal experts I've spoken to say the plan is illegal and utterly nonsensical, and the FCC has no authority to do this under Section 230 or anywhere else. The order would also undermine most of the logic the Pai FCC used in its effort to repeal net neutrality.

Oddly though, an FCC that has been very vocal on this subject when convenient has been oddly mute since the story broke, with none of the agency's three Republican Commissioners (Ajit Pai, Brendan Carr, or Mike O'Rielly) making so much as a peep about the terribleness of the latest Trump "plan."

This kind of silence is uncharacteristic. O'Rielly, for example, was positively apoplectic recently when he proclaimed (falsely) that community broadband posed a dire threat to free speech. Carr has similarly expressed great disdain previously at the idea of government regulating speech on social media platforms, and hyperventilates over telecom sector free speech rights any time someone even faintly suggests giants like Comcast should be held accountable for decades of abysmal service:

Then there's Pai, who attacked net neutrality extensively by insisting it was the equivalent of the Fairness Doctrine, the exact type of solution Trump is now proposing for social media. Pai has routinely tried to play both sides of this debate, insisting he's a stalwart defender of free speech, yet demonizing platforms like Twitter for nonexistent censorship when it makes for a good sound byte. He's also repeatedly stated we can't possibly hold bumbling monopolies like AT&T and Comcast accountable on the state or federal level because it would violate their First Amendment rights (a belief those companies share).

All of this endless hand wringing over free speech, and yet when the President of the United States says he wants to use the FCC to police speech on social media (again with near zero authority to do so), all three of these free speech patriots are suddenly quiet.

And while you could argue that they didn't comment because the plan hasn't been made official yet, that didn't stop them from loudly deriding a similarly undercooked, leaked plan by the Trump administration to nationalize the nation's 5G networks. That plan was largely just the lobbyist brain fart of a Peter Thiel-backed company named Rivada Networks (supported by folks like Karl Rove and Newt Gingrich), yet Carr, O'Rielly, and Pai all had plenty to say about the unworkability of that plan (largely because such a plan is AT&T and Verizon's worst nightmare).

The trio's fellow commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel offered up what was probably the most concise reaction to having the FCC police Facebook and Twitter:

As many have surmised this could all amount to a giant hill of bupkis. The administration may have just been floating a trial balloon that has now, clearly, popped. After all, in the Trump era you can never tell what's serious policy and what's the passing brain fart of whoever has the President's ear at one particular moment.

Still, you'd think a trio of FCC Commissioners who proclaim to be champions of free speech would have had something to say about the plan given the scale of its stupidity. Yet they've refused to issue any comment whatsoever after more than a week. It's almost as if they're not actually being ideologically consistent, and are remaining mute simply out of blind partisan allegiance and support of Trump's clearly idiotic plan to blame social media for the fact that many people just can't stop being grifting assholes on the internet.

And while there's certainly plenty of very real problems with Facebook and Google (especially on the privacy front), it's been kind of overlooked in tech policy circles that a lot of the animosity in DC toward "big tech" right now originates with telecom giants eager to elbow in on Silicon Valley online ad revenues. It is, as they say, always about the money.

Filed Under: 1st amendment, administrative law, ajit pai, anti-conservative bias, bias, brendan carr, donald trump, executive order, fcc, free speech, michael o'rielly, policing speech, social media
Companies: facebook, google

Reader Comments

The First Word

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread

  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Aug 2019 @ 1:11pm

    Re: That time when Dick misrepresented the facts...

    Dicky! I was wondering when you would pop your head back up. Your buddy Pai couldn't stand to have some painful truths laid bare so he had you do damage control?

    Alright, time to dig in:


    Thank you for clearly labeling your strawman.

    Karl Bode is upset that the chairman of the FCC has not publicly commented on a non-public plan for an unlawful order directing the FCC to censor Internet speech. This is as fine an example of delusional thinking as we're ever going to see.

    As he notes in the article, the FCC has publicly commented on a non-public plan before, but in that case it happened to be something telcos wouldn't like. And I quote:

    And while you could argue that they didn't comment because the plan hasn't been made official yet, that didn't stop them from loudly deriding a similarly undercooked, leaked plan by the Trump administration to nationalize the nation's 5G networks.

    Oh gee, I wonder why they are so vocal about other "non-public plans" but not this one. Hmmmmm.

    The appropriate way for a high-ranking government official to react to an unlawful and unpublished plan is through direct and private communication with the author.

    Welp, so much for that. As noted above, they blew that one already.

    Unlike conspiracy-oriented blogs such as this one, the FCC is not funded by click bait.

    Huh, you mean like all those times Pai and the other Republican members trotted out lies and misleading facts from major telcos/ISPs that were summarily debunked later on, or in some cases prior to? Those types of "click bait"?

    This alleged plan

    Do you have proof the WH hasn't been floating it and discussing it internally?

    that we only know about because of speculation by CNN

    Careful there Dicky, that sounds dangerously close to a conspiracy theory that is easily disproved by facts. Such as the fact that it was originally reported by Politico here:

    The White House is circulating drafts of a proposed executive order that would address allegations of anti-conservative bias by social media companies, according to a White House official and two other people familiar with the matter

    CNN just took it up from there and actually got a summary of the draft:

    The draft order, a summary of which was obtained by CNN

    See? I told you to be careful, someone just might call you on your BS.

    will never see the light of day.

    Let's certainly hope not. However, that doesn't change the fact that Trump and his administration are actively looking at a plan that would blatantly violate the First Amendment of the Constitution. That's a pretty serious thing for top government officials to be considering. Definitely newsworthy.

    The Rivada 5G plan exists as an actual written document that has been shared.

    The draft order of this plan exists as an actual written document, and has been shared among members of the White House. Seems pretty similar to me. Plus, the Rivada plan was not initially public (if it even is now, got links?) and WAS leaked ahead of any public announcement. How deep are you planning to dig this hole?

    Big difference.

    Oh yes, huge difference. A private proposed plan that was leaked to the public is SO much different than a private proposed plan that was leaked to the public. Mhm, mhm, mhm. Yep, big difference there.

    Try again Richard.

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter

Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Insider Chat
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads


Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.