FCC to revisit social media law to clarify meaning: Ajit Pai

Ajit Varadaraj Pai
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San Francisco– In the wake of latest controversy where Facebook and Twitter restricted the spread of an article criticizing Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai has said that the agency will revisit the Section 230 of the Communications Act that applies to social media and Internet companies.

US President Donald Trump has slammed Facebook and Twitter for restricting the distribution of a New York Post article criticising Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.

The New York Post published a series of stories this week citing emails, purportedly sent by Biden’s son.

Pai said in a statement on Thursday that “members of all three branches of the federal government have expressed serious concerns about the prevailing interpretation of the immunity set forth in Section 230 of the Communications Act”.

“Many advance an overly broad interpretation that in some cases shields social media companies from consumer protection laws in a way that has no basis in the text of Section 230,” he added.

Pai’s comments sparked controversy among the senior FCC members.

Democratic FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks said that the country is in the midst of an election.

“The President’s Executive Order on #Section230 was politically motivated and legally unsound. The FCC shouldn’t do the President’s bidding here,” he said in a tweet.

The other Democratic commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said: “The FCC has no business being the president’s speech police”.

Pai, however, said that the “Commission’s general counsel has informed me that the FCC has the legal authority to interpret Section 230. Consistent with this advice, I intend to move forward with a rulemaking to clarify its meaning”.

“Social media companies have a First Amendment right to free speech. But they do not have a First Amendment right to a special immunity denied to other media outlets, such as newspapers and broadcasters,” Pai further said.

Facebook earlier limited the spread of the Biden article which was liked, shared or commented on almost 600,000 times on Facebook, according to data from CrowdTangle.

In an unprecedented step, Twitter blocked users from posting pictures of the emails or links to two of the New York Post’s stories, citing its rules against sharing “content obtained through hacking that contains private information.”

Twitter said that the “images contained in the articles include personal and private information — like email addresses and phone numbers — which violate our rules”.

However, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey acknowledged that the company’s communication about why it was blocking the articles “was not great”.

“Our communication around our actions on the @nypost article was not great. And blocking URL sharing via tweet or DM with zero context as to why we’re blocking: unacceptable”, he tweeted.

The action by Facebook and Twitter resulted in a political storm in the US.

Trump tweeted that it was “so terrible that Facebook and Twitter took down the story”.

Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri sent letters to Facebook and Twitter, pressing them on the decisions to reduce distribution and block the story. (IANS)


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