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WASHINGTON — On Wednesday evening, Free Press filed comments at the Federal Communications Commission in response to a White House executive order that seeks to punish social-media companies for fact checking President Trump’s online posts.

Under the order, the administration’s telecom arm at the NTIA was required to submit a petition for rulemaking to the FCC. The petition, filed in July, asks the FCC to craft a rule that would potentially exempt social-media companies from protections under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a federal law that shields companies from legal liability for the material their users post online.

The FCC rulemaking is born from “corrupt and ignoble impulses,” reads the Free Press filing. “The president, upset after Twitter fact-checked his statements regarding mail-in voting, promulgated an unlawful and unconstitutional executive order that seeks to use the power of the federal government to stifle, censor, and intimidate media companies that criticize him, and to force those same companies to carry and promote favorable content about him and his administration.”

Free Press urged the FCC to decline to take up the Trump White House’s effort to bully and silence online platforms. Moreover, Free Press argues, the Trump order seeks to twist the law to force social-media sites to carry the president’s lies and propaganda with little fact checking, contextualizing or other necessary editorializing.

Last week, Free Press joined a lawsuit challenging the May 28 executive order. The suit asserts that the order effectively encourages the spread of harmful disinformation about voting rights, racial-justice protests, COVID-19 treatment and other vital issues.

Free Press Senior Policy Counsel Gaurav Laroia made the following statement:

“It’s no coincidence that this charade is happening in the months just before the 2020 presidential election. The Trump administration and its FCC allies are trying to bully and intimidate social-media companies into rolling back their content-moderation efforts for political speech.

“The FCC’s GOP majority has been wildly inconsistent when it comes to questions about the scope of the agency’s authority to regulate internet access or websites themselves. The three Republican commissioners voted in 2017 to jettison Net Neutrality rules that were based on solid congressional authority. But now some of these same commissioners are terribly excited about the administration’s Section 230 proposal — even though they once said it was a mortal sin to ‘regulate the internet,’ and claimed falsely that the Obama administration had interfered with the FCC’s independence. Now that a fellow Republican sits in the Oval Office, people like Commissioner Carr are singing an entirely different tune, directly orchestrated by Trump, about the agency’s power to regulate internet platforms.

“The fact remains that Section 230 greatly lowers barriers for third-party speech hosted on platforms, large and small. Its provisions are straightforward: An interactive website or service generally will not be subject to speaker or publisher liability simply because it hosts third-party content. The law strikes a balance that allows websites of all sizes and types that host user-generated content to flourish.

“If the FCC grants the administration’s proposal, no websites or platforms would be able to set their own standards for their online communities. It would seriously threaten the ability of marginalized groups to organize and express their views without the government forcing them to allow racist and sexist interlopers into every conversation. It would leave sites little choice but to drown in posts from bigots, propagandists, conspiracy theorists and trolls.

“Section 230 enabled websites, regardless of their size, to tend to their own gardens and set standards for the kinds of discourse they allow without having to vet and vouch for every single comment.

“This FCC proceeding is a cynical enterprise that threatens this online diversity, our fundamental freedoms and the rule of law. Skepticism about the wisdom and intellectual honesty of this project has already imperiled the career of one Republican commissioner, apparently as punishment doled out by the president as retribution for the fact that this independent agency commissioner would dare question Trump's understanding of these issues.

“The FCC would be wise to follow the sound logic that created Section 230 under the law in the first place. The agency should respect its independence and reject this effort to press online platforms into service of the Trump administration.”


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