Tag Archives: FTC Commissioner Noah Phillips

President Trump is drafting executive order on social media’s censorship of conservatives

About three months ago, in May 2019, President Trump finally heeded the cries of conservative bloggers (including Fellowship of the Minds) and users of social media of being censored, blacklisted and abused by the tech giants. The White House created a webpage for us to relate our travails — as individuals, websites, and blogs.

The evidence that conservatives are being censored is overwhelming. See:

It is, of course, in President Trump’s self-interest to do something about this censorship. See “Insider Blows Whistle & Exec Reveals Google Plan to Prevent ‘Trump situation’ in 2020“.

In July, at a White House social media summit, President Trump decried the censorship and directed his administration to explore all “regulatory and legislative solutions to protect free speech and the free-speech rights of all Americans.” Last Tuesday, citing the case of a Google engineer who says he had been fired for his conservative views, Trump warned that he is “watching Google very closely.”

Now, it is reported that the Trump White House is preparing an executive order to address the anti-conservative bias of the tech giants.

Tech giants’ love-fest with Barack Obama

Politico reports, August 7, 2019, that according to a White House official and two other people familiar with the matter, the Trump White House is circulating drafts of a proposed executive order to address social media companies’ anti-conservative bias.

The unnamed White House official said: “If the internet is going to be presented as this egalitarian platform and most of Twitter is liberal cesspools of venom, then at least the president wants some fairness in the system. But look, we also think that social media plays a vital role. They have a vital role and an increasing responsibility to the culture that has helped make them so profitable and so prominent.”

The executive order, which deals with other topics besides tech bias, is still in the early drafting stages and is not expected to be issued imminently. None of the three individuals would describe the contents of the executive order or what penalties, if any, would be visited on companies deemed to be censoring political viewpoints. But its existence, and the deliberations surrounding it, are evidence that the Trump administration is taking a serious look at wielding the federal government’s power against Silicon Valley.

The Trump White House faces many obstacles in crafting a policy against the censorship:

  1. The federal government’s options on combating online bias are limited by the First Amendment. Before he left his job in May, John Morris, who handled internet policy issues at the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), said: “There’s very little in terms of direct regulation the federal government can do without congressional action, and frankly I think that’s a positive thing. Although the government may be able to support and assist online platforms’ efforts to reduce hate and violence online, the government should not try to impose speech regulations on private platforms. As politicians from both sides of the political spectrum have historically urged, the government should not be in the business of regulating speech.”
  2. Another obstacle is Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, which both protects online platforms from liability for content their users post and empowers the companies to remove content without fear of liability. Section 230 has increasingly come under fire from lawmakers of both parties frustrated with tech companies’ content moderation practices.
  3. A crackdown on social media companies would involve at least four federal agencies: the Federal Communications Commission (FCC),  Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Department of Justice, and Department of Commerce. However:
    1. Although the Justice Department has announced a sweeping antitrust review of whether tech giants are harming competition or stifling innovation, antitrust cases have not traditionally been used as tools to address complaints about online speech.
    2. Republicans at the FCC and FTC already have said publicly that they don’t see a role for their agencies in policing companies’ online content:
      1. Republican FCC Commissioner and Trump appointee Brendan Carr tweeted: “Outsourcing censorship to the government is not just a bad idea, it would violate the First Amendment. I’m a no.”
      2. Republicans at the FTC, which punishes companies for unfair or deceptive acts, also have said they don’t see a role for the agency in policing allegations of social media bias. During an FTC oversight hearing in the Senate last year, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) argued that a tech company could be considered “actively deceptive” if it appears to be a neutral public platform and then engages in censorship. But Republican FTC Commissioner Noah Phillips said the FTC’s antitrust and consumer protection authorities are “not authorities to police the First Amendment itself.”
  4. Conservatives, such as the Heritage Foundation, have also spent decades opposing any attempt to revive the FCC’s old Fairness Doctrine, which required broadcasters to be balanced in their programming on controversial issues.

What the Trump White House can do:

  1. One potential approach could involve using the government’s leverage over federal contractors, a tactic the Obama administration used to advance LGBT rights via a 2014 executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating against workers on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Trump did just that last March when he signed an executive order to promote free speech on college campuses by requiring schools to agree to promote free inquiry (which they are already supposed to do, but many don’t) in order to receive federal research funding.
  2. The administration could have the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which handles communications policy, to convene interested parties to explore the issues.

See also:

~Eowyn

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