The Trump administration took a key step on Monday toward fulfilling the president’s executive order on social media, formally asking the FCC to develop regulations that could apply to Facebook, Twitter and other tech platforms.
The petition for rulemaking puts the ball in the FCC’s court. The agency must now decide whether to agree to President Donald Trump’s call for FCC oversight of internet platforms. Trump and other Republicans have long criticized companies, including Facebook and Twitter, for allegedly censoring conservatives; the companies have denied the claims.
“President Trump is committed to protecting the rights of all Americans to express their views and not face unjustified restrictions or selective censorship from a handful of powerful companies,” said Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in a statement.
FCC spokesman Brian Hart said the agency will carefully review the petition.
Under Trump’s May executive order, a branch of the Commerce Department known as the National Telecommunications and Information Administration was expected to call on the FCC to “clarify” Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, the law that has shielded tech companies from much litigation over internet content since its passage in 1996.
Trump’s social media order was introduced and signed days after Twitter applied a warning label to his tweets that said they were “potentially misleading.” Twitter highlighted two of Trump’s tweets that claimed, without evidence, that mail-in voting would lead to widespread voter fraud. Trump later threatened to “strongly regulate” or shut down social media platforms. Since then, Trump has continued his attacks against Twitter.
Legal experts say the executive order is on shaky ground, as the FCC has traditionally avoided regulating internet companies. The order is already facing at least one legal challenge that claims it is unconstitutional.
Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democratic FCC commissioner, said the agency should steer clear of the request.
“The FCC shouldn’t take this bait,” Rosenworcel said in a statement. “While social media can be frustrating, turning this agency into the President’s speech police is not the answer. If we honor the Constitution, we will reject this petition immediately.”