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Pallone & Doyle Demand Answers from Pai Regarding White House Involvement in Section 230 Rulemaking

Oct 28, 2020
Press Release
“It wasn’t until online platforms began fact-checking the President’s content that he and his Administration began an aggressive campaign to persuade the FCC to dictate how online platforms moderate content”

Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) and Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Mike Doyle (D-PA) wrote to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai today demanding answers for the FCC’s recent and sudden announcement that it is moving forward with a Section 230 rulemaking.

“The fact that this announcement came just weeks before the election, and that President Trump has pushed for this CDA 230 rulemaking, raise serious questions about the independence of the agency. The American people deserve to know what conversations, if any, have transpired between you, your office and the White House to ensure the integrity of the FCC,” Pallone and Doyle wrote. “Since Congress’ enactment of CDA 230, the FCC has played no role in implementing or interpreting this provision. It wasn’t until online platforms began fact-checking the President’s content that he and his Administration began an aggressive campaign to persuade the FCC to dictate how online platforms moderate content.”

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act stipulates that online platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook, are generally not held liable for content posted by third-party users – with a few relevant exceptions. In addition to writing that President Trump’s efforts to change this policy are driven by retaliation, Pallone and Doyle also detail the lengths to which the President has gone to retaliate against those who stand in his way, causing concern that Chairman Pai’s actions may be driven by a White House pressure campaign.

“Not only has the Trump Administration directly pressured the FCC to do its bidding on CDA 230, it appears the Administration is willing to retaliate against those who do not get in line with its agenda,” wrote the two Committee leaders. 

Pallone and Doyle pointed to several examples:

  • President Trump abruptly pulled his nomination of Commissioner Michael O’Rielly for another FCC term shortly after Commissioner O’Rielly publicly raised concerns over the FCC’s role in interpreting CDA 230. 
  • Last month, Trump nominated Nathan Simington, who reportedly worked on the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) CDA 230 petition, to replace Commissioner O’Rielly.
  • This month, Trump tweeted at Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS) urging Republicans to confirm Mr. Simington, and shortly thereafter, a nomination hearing was scheduled for November 10th.

“Now it appears the FCC is working in concert with the Trump Administration to attempt to influence the actions of online platforms by advancing a CDA 230 rulemaking,” the two Committee leaders continued in their letter to Chairman Pai.

Pallone and Doyle wrote that since the FCC is an independent regulatory agency responsible directly to Congress, it should be avoiding even the appearance of acting on behalf of the President. They requested answers to a series of questions, including:

  • Has anyone from the White House, Executive Office of the President, the NTIA or Department of Justice contacted FCC regarding this Section 230 rulemaking? If so, what was discussed?
  • Has anyone from the Trump campaign contacted FCC regarding Section 230?
  • Has Chairman Pai or his staff contacted either the White House or the Trump campaign regarding Section 230, and if so, what was discussed?

The full letter is available HERE.

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