In an interview with The Verge this week, Sen. Ron Wyden, a key voice in Congress on internet policy issues, accused President Donald Trump of “working the refs, bullying the tech companies, and forcing Twitter and other platforms to print his lies.”
In a surprising move Monday evening, the Trump administration withdrew its nomination of Michael O’Rielly, a Republican, to serve another term as one of the five commissioners at the Federal Communications Commission.
Wyden called the administration’s reversal a “disaster” and warned that pushing nominees to the FCC — an independent agency — who only swear loyalty to the president could cause the agency to lose “any sense of independence,” according to The Verge.
“One nomination after another is brought up, and the litmus test is: will the nominee do exactly what the president of the United States wants to do on any given issue at any particular moment?” Wyden told The Verge.
The Trump administration pulled O’Rielly’s nomination just days after he expressed concerns about the FCC regulating how social media companies moderate content on their platforms, which Trump’s controversial executive order seeks to do by empowering regulators to curb the companeies’ legal protections.
“The First Amendment protects us from limits on speech imposed by the government — not private actors — and we should all reject demands, in the name of the First Amendment, for private actors to curate or publish speech in a certain way,” O’Rielly said during a virtual event hosted by The Media Institute.
“Like it or not, the First Amendment’s protections apply to corporate entities, especially when they engage in editorial decision making,” he said.
Trump issued the executive order — which specifically named Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube — in May after Twitter fact-checked his tweets falsely claiming that mail-in ballots lead to voter fraud, alleging that the platforms are biased against him and conservative viewpoints.
The order directs federal regulators, including the FCC, to review, and ultimately curtail, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which gives social media companies broad legal authority to moderate speech on their platforms.
Legal and tech policy experts said the order was legally dubious and wouldn’t hold up in court. (It is already facing one such legal challenge).
“The First Amendment protects Twitter from Trump. It does not protect Trump from Twitter,” Ashkhen Kazaryan, the director of civil liberties at the libertarian think tank TechFreedom told Business Insider’s Sonam Sheth and Ashley Gold.
Wyden, one of the co-authors of Section 230 — which is widely credited with enabling the growth of today’s internet platforms — also slammed Trump’s order.
“This is a deeply flawed idea. Beyond the fact that this is a colossal Constitutional mess, I don’t think even Donald Trump believes he’s going to be able to get away with this,” Wyden told The Verge.
Trump isn’t alone in his dislike of Section 230, however. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have ramped up their criticisms of Section 230 in recent months, but for very different reasons.
Former Vice President Joe Biden has also called for Section 230 to be revoked, citing platforms’ reluctance to enforce their policies against misinformation and hate speech, arguing the current law disincentivizes them from taking action because they’re not held liable for content published by users.
Republicans, in particular Sen. Josh Hawley, have pushed to get rid of Section 230 protections in an effort to combat what they claim is anti-conservative bias by social media companies. Lawsuits alleging such bias have been largely rejected by courts, also on the grounds that the First Amendment doesn’t apply to private companies.