FCC chairman proceeds with rulemaking to clarify Section 230 relating to social media companies

Pai: Social media companies 'do not have a First Amendment right to a special immunity denied to other media outlets, such as newspapers and broadcasters'

The Federal Communications Commission's chairman said Thursday that the agency will seek to clarify regulations affecting social media, a move that could lead to the powerful companies behind the platforms becoming subject to the same rules as publishers.

In a tweet Thursday, FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai said the FCC will initiate “rulemaking to clarify” the meaning of Section 230 of the 1934 Communications Act after the Trump administration earlier this year filed a petition, contesting the legal shields afforded to social media companies – a move celebrated by GOP officials who believe social media is politically biased.

“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,” Pai said in a statement Thursday.


Pai said there was bipartisan support on the Hill to readdress the law, and pointed to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ argument earlier this week, saying the law needs to be more narrowly viewed by the lower courts.

Congressional Democrats support some form of regulation in order to address harmful content, while Republicans believe there is unfair political bias.

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

But members of the FCC are split on whether or not they think the agency should be following the calls of senior GOP leadership to more heavily regulate Internet platforms.

“The FCC has no business being the President’s speech police,” said FCC Commissioner, Jessica Roseworcel, in a tweet Thursday.

Pai has argued that the FCC has the “legal authority to regulate Section 230,” but those who reject the calls for increased regulations for platforms like Facebook and Twitter see it as a form of potential censorship.

Pai’s announcement also happens to come on the heels of Twitter’s decision to limit users' ability to post links to a New York Post article about Hunter Biden’s alleged emails linking his father, Joe Biden, to a Ukrainian energy company.


Facebook took similar steps, limiting users' ability to distribute the story in their feed.

The move only heightened the GOP’s complaints of social media bias against and censorship of Republicans.

Any changes made to Section 230 could mean social media platforms have to change their entire business structures and possibly force the platforms to follow new guidelines similar to that of a news publisher.