US agency shows no sign of quick action on Trump social media petition

07 October 2020 - 12:23 By Reuters
US President Donald Trump.
US President Donald Trump.
Image: REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

The Federal Communications Commission has given no indication it will move quickly on an effort by President Donald Trump to narrow the ability of social media companies to remove objectionable content and require new transparency rules.

The Republican president in May directed the US Commerce Department to file the petition after Twitter Inc warned readers to fact-check his posts about unsubstantiated claims of fraud in mail-in voting.

Since then, Trump's social media posts have repeatedly been sanctioned. On Tuesday, Facebook Inc and Twitter took action on posts from Trump for violating their rules against coronavirus misinformation by suggesting that COVID-19 was just like the flu with Facebook taking the post down.

After the FCC received the Commerce Department petition July 27, it opened it for public comment for 45 days, which expired in mid-September. The proceeding has received more than 20,000 comments.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said last week during a call with reporters that "commission staff are currently reviewing" the public comments, declining to say how long that may last.

"I look forward to receiving the results of that review," Pai said. "I'll make my decision based on the law and the facts. So I'm not going to reach a conclusion until we have finished our review of the record."

On Monday, Pai released his agenda for the October 27 FCC meeting without proposing any action on the petition. It can take the FCC a year to propose and then finalize new regulations. A spokesman for Pai declined to comment.

In August, the White House abruptly pulled the nomination of Republican FCC Commissioner Mike O'Rielly to serve another term days after he expressed skepticism about whether the commission had authority to issue new regulations covering social media companies.

The two Democrats on the five-member FCC both strongly oppose the petition.

Last month, Trump nominated Nathan Simington, a senior administration official who has been involved in the social media petition. "Republicans need to get smart and confirm Nate Simington to the FCC ASAP!" Trump wrote on Twitter Tuesday.

The petition asks the FCC to limit protections for social media companies under Section 230, a provision of the 1996 Communications Decency Act that shields them from liability for content posted by their users and allows them to remove lawful but objectionable posts.

On Tuesday, Trump tweeted: "REPEAL SECTION 230!!!" reiterating his previously articulated view.

A group representing major internet companies including Facebook, Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google urged the FCC to reject the petition, saying it is "misguided," while it won the backing of four Republican state attorneys general.