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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


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  1. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
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    Richard Bennett (profile), 17 Aug 2019 @ 1:16pm

    Re: Re: That time when TechDirt jumped the shark...

    Nice try at propping up the scam, but there are clear and obvious differences between the 5G plan cooked up by former NSC member AF Brig. Gen. Robert Spalding and an early draft of a presidential executive order.

    Some of these are matters of content: the spectrum plan had direct relevance to the FCC's jurisdiction over spectrum rights and broadband deployment, but the regulation of Internet social platform speech policies is not under FCC jurisdiction. I can show you where the Comms Act directs the FCC to manage spectrum and broadband deployment, but you can't show me where the Comms Act says the FCC is supposed to regulate Facebook.

    Another difference is the maturity of the proposal. The 5G plan was presented to a broad group of government stakeholders (the NSC) in a slide deck that was intended to elicit discussion. Nobody knows how early the alleged White House order is, who (if anyone) it was presented do, and what its status is with respect to discussion and revision. So it's nothing more than a rumor and certainly not a concrete proposal.

    And then there's the broader question of FCC's place in the federal government structure. Contrary to Techdirt's claims, the FCC doesn't report to the White House, it reports to Congress. The president nominates the commissioners and chooses one of them to be the chairman. He can't fire a commissioner, and all he can do with the chairmanship is transfer it to another commissioner. It's not the FCC's business to comment on possible executive orders and no reason to believe it sees them. In fact, there are good legal reasons to believe they don't.

    Finally, you've made a claim about "normal practice" but you've only offered one incident in support. Statistically, one data point doesn't prove a trend. In fact, the 5G case was the outlier and what's happening here is the norm. You can't show me a single instance in which an FCC chairman has ever commented on an early draft of a possible White House executive order. The 5G plan was certainly not related to any executive order.

    So your story is a farce. The claim that the FCC is "oddly silent" is false. Techdirt is either clueless or deliberately lying.

    Prove me wrong with evidence if you can; and if you can't, you should take down the story or, bette yet, leave it up and label is as false.


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