The White House has drafted an ambitious new proposal to regulate social media platforms, with the aim of combating perceived bias against conservatives, according to a new report from CNN. The proposal, some details of which were previously reported by Politico, would call on the FCC to develop new regulations concerning how social media platforms are allowed to moderate their users.
The FTC, which typically focuses on consumer protection issues, would also be required to maintain a public complaint docket for users who believe their rights have been infringed by online moderation. Those complaints could be used as grounds for an FTC lawsuit against a platform like Facebook, if the platform’s behavior was found to injure consumers.
The order is still in its early stages, and may not be introduced in its current form. Still, the details suggest President Trump is serious about initiating new regulations on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. The president recently halted all Twitter spending by his campaign in retaliation for a moderation action that briefly suspended Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s Twitter account.
As described by CNN, the proposal raises a number of legal issues. Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act gives companies broad discretion for moderating speech. Even if that moderation is found to be undertaken in bad faith, platforms can only be held liable under very specific circumstances. Any attempt to expand that liability would likely face a significant judicial challenge.
Even if the protections of Section 230 were repealed by Congress, it’s not clear the FCC would be legally authorized to moderate social media companies. The commission, which typically regulates telecom companies, has historically seen edge providers like Facebook and YouTube as outside its purview.
Current FCC chairman Ajit Pai has been unusually critical of the lack of regulation facing internet giants. “The greatest threat to a free and open internet has been the unregulated Silicon Valley tech giants that do, in fact, today decide what you see and what you don’t,” Pai said in a Senate Commerce Committee hearing earlier this summer.
Facebook declined to comment on the order. Twitter and YouTube did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Shortly after the CNN report broke, President Trump told reporters he was very concerned with the censorship of conservatives on social media platforms. “We have a lot of these companies coming in a little while,” Trump said, referring to the upcoming meeting on online extremism. “We’re going to be very tough with them. They’re treating conservatives very unfairly.”