by Andrew Kerr
Federal Communication Commission Chairman Ajit Pai announced Thursday that he intends to move forward with a rulemaking to “clarify” the meaning of Section 230 of the Communication Decency Act.
Pai’s announcement comes one day after Twitter prohibited users from posting links to a New York Post story about alleged emails involving Hunter Biden, former Vice President Joe Biden and the Ukrainian gas company Burisma. Twitter’s suppression of the story led President Donald Trump to call for the repeal of Section 230, which indemnifies internet companies from liability over content posted by their users.
“Social media companies have a First Amendment right to free speech,” Pai said in a statement Thursday. “But they do not have a First Amendment right to a special immunity denied to other media outlets, such as newspapers and broadcasters.”
Pai said members of all three branches of the federal government have expressed concerns about the immunities set forth in the provision.
“There is bipartisan support in Congress to reform the law,” Pai said. “The U.S. Department of Commerce has petitioned the Commission to ‘clarify ambiguities in section 230.’ And earlier this week, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas pointed out that courts have relied upon ‘policy and purpose arguments to grant sweeping protections to Internet platforms’ that appear to go far beyond the actual text of the provision.”
Pai said that as Congress deliberates whether to change the law, the FCC’s general counsel has advised him that his commission has the legal authority to interpret the current meaning of the statute.
“Consistent with this advice, I intend to move forward with a rulemaking to clarify its meaning,” Pai said.
Trump said during a campaign rally Wednesday that he would strip Section 230 protections from social media companies “unless they shape up.”
“If big tech persists in coordination with the mainstream media, we must immediately strip them of their Section 230 protection,” Trump said. “We all believe in freedom of the press but don’t forget, big tech got something years ago that let them become big tech. They got total protection.”
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