WASHINGTON — The Trump administration has taken steps to fulfill the president's executive order that would further regulate social media platforms.
A petition for rulemaking from the Commerce Department, released by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration on Monday, asks the Federal Communications Commission to develop oversight of platforms like Facebook and Twitter. It specifically asks the agency to "clarify the provisions of section 230 of the Communications Act of 1934."
Companies like Twitter and Facebook are granted liability protection under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act because they are treated as “platforms," rather than “publishers,” which can face lawsuits over content.
“Many Americans rely on online platforms to stay informed and connected, sharing their thoughts and ideas on issues important to them, which can oftentimes lead to free and open debate around public policies and upcoming elections,” said Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. “It has long been the policy of the United States to foster a robust marketplace of ideas on the Internet and the free flow of information around the world. 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.”
The petition calls on the FCC to make clear when online platforms can claim section 230 protections if they restrict access to content in a manner not specifically outlined under the Act.
President Donald Trump has repeatedly expressed anger at social media companies. Back in May, he took aim at Twitter and other platforms when he signed an executive order challenging the lawsuit protections that have served as a bedrock for unfettered speech on the internet.
Both Democratic commissioners on the five-person panel said the commission should reject the petition.
"The FCC shouldn’t take this bait. While social media can be frustrating, turning this agency into the President's speech police is not the answer," FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement. "If we honor the Constitution, we will reject this petition immediately.”
Trump has claimed Twitter made “editorial decisions” by fact-checking some of his tweets, which the president claims amounts to political activism and that such actions should cost social media companies their liability protection for what is posted on their platforms.
The executive order directs executive branch agencies to ask independent rule-making agencies including the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission to study whether they can place new regulations on the companies — though experts express doubts much can be done without an act of Congress.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement in May, “This debate is an important one. The Federal Communications Commission will carefully review any petition for rulemaking filed by the Department of Commerce.”
The president and fellow conservatives have been claiming, for years, that Silicon Valley tech companies are biased against them. But there is no evidence for this — and while the executives and many employees of Twitter, Facebook and Google may lean liberal, the companies have stressed they have no business interest in favoring one political party over the other.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.