FCC Will Move to Set Rules Clarifying Key Social Media Legal Protections: Chairman

October 15, 2020 Updated: October 15, 2020

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai said Thursday that his agency will move forward with President Donald Trump’s petition to clarify the meaning of a law that gives social media and tech companies legal protection for content posted by third parties.

The announcement came as Twitter and Facebook said they would take action to limit the reach or bar sharing of a New York Post article about Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, and purported emails that show his family’s ties to foreign officials.

Trump on Wednesday night said he would look into changing the protections under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Both Twitter and Facebook have argued that, based on Section 230, they’re not publishers and instead argued they’re open platforms.

Pai said in a statement Thursday that the agency’s counsel said the “FCC has the legal authority to interpret Section 230,” adding that “members of all three branches of the federal government have expressed serious concerns” about the interpretation of Section 230.

“Throughout my tenure at the Federal Communications Commission, I have favored regulatory parity, transparency, and free expression,” he added. “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.”

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Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey speaks during a town hall in New Delhi, India, on Nov. 12, 2018. (Anushree Fadnavis/Reuters)

Trump’s reelection campaign said Thursday that Twitter suspended its official campaign account, because of Team Trump’s post about Biden and his son.

“Your account has been locked,” the Twitter message said. “What happened? We have determined that this account violated the Twitter Rules. Specifically, for: Violating our rules against posting private information.”

“You may not publish or post other people’s private information without their express authorization and permission,” the Twitter message read, according to Mike Hahn, the director of social media for the Trump 2020 campaign.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany also said that her account was blocked after she attempted to share the New York Post article on Wednesday.

The NY Post’s complaints prompted Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to say, “Our communication around our actions on the @nypost article was not great. And blocking URL sharing via tweet or DM with zero context as to why we’re blocking: unacceptable.”

Meanwhile, the Senate Judiciary Committee announced it will hold votes on issuing a subpoena to Dorsey for a hearing next week.

“This is election interference and we are 19 days out from an election,” said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) to reporters on Thursday, adding that the Judiciary Committee “will issue a subpoena to Jack Dorsey” for next Friday, Oct. 23. Cruz and Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said they will hold a vote on issuing a subpoena.