Federal Communications Commission Chair Ajit Pai said Thursday that the FCC is going to provide new guidance on the meaning of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which has protected companies such as Facebook and Twitter from legal liability for material posted by users on their platforms.
Mr. Pai’s announcement made clear he is not waiting for new legislation or executive action before reconsidering the meaning of the key legal provision that Big Tech companies have relied on to avoid regulation.
“As elected officials consider whether to change the law, the question remains: What does Section 230 currently mean? Many advance an overly broad interpretation that in some cases shields social media companies from consumer protection laws in a way that has no basis in the text of Section 230,” Mr. Pai said in a statement. “The Commission’s General Counsel has informed me that the FCC has the legal authority to interpret Section 230. Consistent with this advice, I intend to move forward with a rulemaking to clarify its meaning.”
Mr. Pai’s statement said he favors “regulatory parity, transparency, and free expression” but his new action on Section 230 is unlikely to be welcome news at the social media companies that have aggressively cracked down on anti-Biden content in recent days.
Facebook limited the distribution of a New York Post article involving Democratic presidential nominee Joseph R. Biden’s son Hunter on its platform on Wednesday and Twitter soon did likewise. Twitter also prevented users from sharing the article or direct messaging it and locked the accounts of users attempting to share the material in the article, including the Trump campaign, @TeamTrump; Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee; and White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany’s personal account.
Mr. Pai did not cite the crackdown on bad news for Biden as prompting his decision to reconsider Section 230. Instead, he cited concerns expressed by members of all three branches of the federal government, including the U.S. Department of Commerce and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.