After Trump, Congress, Supreme Court Justice hit out at tech giants' legal immunity, now FCC boss wants to stick his oar in, too

Pai says he wants to 'clarify' Section 230's 26 words even though he probably can't do anything about it


On Thursday, FCC chairman Ajit Pai declared his intention to clarify a law he may not have the authority to interpret.

Citing concerns about Section 230 of the US Communications Decency Act, which more or less protects online service providers from liability for content created by their users, the boss of America's comms regulator said he plans "to move forward with a rulemaking to clarify" the meaning of the statute.

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

But Santa Clara University law professor Eric Goldman, who has written extensively on Section 230, expressed doubt that there is a valid legal framework for what Pai wants to do as boss of the FCC.

"The fact that they're making the pre-announcement with any support makes me skeptical about the legitimacy of the announcement," he said in a phone interview with The Register.

"There should be some formal piece of paper that says what the FCC is doing. Instead, all we get is a cryptic announcement on Twitter. It sure seems like the announcement has campaign-related benefits and the timing would be consistent with that."

Bias versus BS

Both Republicans and Democrats have raised concerns that Section 230 affords internet companies too much protection.

In May the Trump administration said the law should not provide immunity for social media companies that remove content to censor "certain viewpoints," a statement based on the unsupported claim that social media platforms are biased against conservative content.

gag

US Supreme Court Justice flames lower courts for giving 'sweeping immunity' to Facebook, YouTube, etc when it comes to harmful content

READ MORE

A 2018 survey by non-profit MediaMatters "found no evidence that conservative content is being censored on Facebook." Meanwhile, a glance at the top 10 links interacted with daily on Facebook shows it is dominated by conservative material.

At the same time, Democratic lawmakers have expressed reservations about the law because it hasn't sufficiently motivated online platforms to police misinformation, hate speech, and illegal content.

Efforts to rethink the law haven't been well received. A draft proposal from the US Department of Justice to amend Section 230 was panned last month by Representative Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ), who points out that Congress gets to rewrite legislation, not the President.

"President Trump’s Section 230 legislation is a mess, but one thing is clear – the proposed changes would make it harder to stop the misinformation and disinformation spread by the President and foreign governments," he said.

Hey, he asked!

But as Pai notes in his statement, the US Commerce Department asked Congress to clarify Section 230 and US Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas made clear that he was willing to review the liability protections afforded to internet platforms.

Pai's remarks coincide with Twitter's and Facebook's removal of a dubiously sourced New York Post story about Hunter Biden, takedowns that produced predictable objections from President Trump about the need to undo Section 230.

Twitter said it removed links to the story because it violated its rules on distributing private information and hacked materials. Facebook said it was reducing the visibility of the story in accordance with its efforts to reduce misinformation.

A call to arms

May's White House "Executive Order Preventing Online Censorship" directed the Attorney General and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to file a petition for rulemaking with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

The telecom watchdog has been asked to propose regulations clarifying when content removal done under the auspices of Section 230 protection becomes unprotected editorial discretion. Back then US Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) called the directive "a blatant attempt to use the full power of the United States government to force private companies to lie for the President."

Pai insists he can take action to clarify the meaning of the law, something already fairly well established through US court rulings. "The Commission’s General Counsel has informed me that the FCC has the legal authority to interpret Section 230," he said in his statement.

Not everyone agrees. "The FCC does not have the authority to rewrite the law, and Ajit Pai can't appoint himself commissioner of the speech police," said US Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) in a statement posted to Twitter.

Wyden should know. He's one of the co-authors of the 26 words that make up Section 230, along with former Representative Chris Cox (R-CA). In comments filed last month in accordance with the rulemaking process, Cox wrote, "Congress not only did not give the Commission authority to regulate the internet in Section 230, but it expressly intended this law to prevent that result." ®


Other stories you might like

  • Talos names eight deadly sins in widely used industrial software
    Entire swaths of gear relies on vulnerability-laden Open Automation Software (OAS)

    A researcher at Cisco's Talos threat intelligence team found eight vulnerabilities in the Open Automation Software (OAS) platform that, if exploited, could enable a bad actor to access a device and run code on a targeted system.

    The OAS platform is widely used by a range of industrial enterprises, essentially facilitating the transfer of data within an IT environment between hardware and software and playing a central role in organizations' industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) efforts. It touches a range of devices, including PLCs and OPCs and IoT devices, as well as custom applications and APIs, databases and edge systems.

    Companies like Volvo, General Dynamics, JBT Aerotech and wind-turbine maker AES are among the users of the OAS platform.

    Continue reading
  • Despite global uncertainty, $500m hit doesn't rattle Nvidia execs
    CEO acknowledges impact of war, pandemic but says fundamentals ‘are really good’

    Nvidia is expecting a $500 million hit to its global datacenter and consumer business in the second quarter due to COVID lockdowns in China and Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Despite those and other macroeconomic concerns, executives are still optimistic about future prospects.

    "The full impact and duration of the war in Ukraine and COVID lockdowns in China is difficult to predict. However, the impact of our technology and our market opportunities remain unchanged," said Jensen Huang, Nvidia's CEO and co-founder, during the company's first-quarter earnings call.

    Those two statements might sound a little contradictory, including to some investors, particularly following the stock selloff yesterday after concerns over Russia and China prompted Nvidia to issue lower-than-expected guidance for second-quarter revenue.

    Continue reading
  • Another AI supercomputer from HPE: Champollion lands in France
    That's the second in a week following similar system in Munich also aimed at researchers

    HPE is lifting the lid on a new AI supercomputer – the second this week – aimed at building and training larger machine learning models to underpin research.

    Based at HPE's Center of Excellence in Grenoble, France, the new supercomputer is to be named Champollion after the French scholar who made advances in deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphs in the 19th century. It was built in partnership with Nvidia using AMD-based Apollo computer nodes fitted with Nvidia's A100 GPUs.

    Champollion brings together HPC and purpose-built AI technologies to train machine learning models at scale and unlock results faster, HPE said. HPE already provides HPC and AI resources from its Grenoble facilities for customers, and the broader research community to access, and said it plans to provide access to Champollion for scientists and engineers globally to accelerate testing of their AI models and research.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022