Tech Policy

Joint Center to FCC: Don’t Facilitate Online Disinformation & Discrimination

Yesterday, the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies submitted its analysis opposing the Trump Administration’s attempt to prod the Federal Communications Commission to adopt rules that would discourage platforms like Twitter and Facebook from removing objectionable material—like disinformation that suppresses Black votes or facilitates housing or employment discrimination.

In May—just two days after Twitter flagged a misleading tweet from President Trump—the President issued a retaliatory executive order.  The order attempted to restrict federal protections social media companies enjoy to moderate content on their platforms. Although Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act clearly gives social media providers the power to restrict access to “objectionable” material on their platforms, the executive order resulted in the Trump Administration petitioning the FCC to issue rules to limit this power.

The Joint Center’s reply comments submitted to the FCC explained that the Trump Administration’s proposal would worsen online experiences for many Americans. The proposal would result in social media companies failing to take down false information that discourages voting by communities of color, posts that promote hate speech and racial polarization, and racially-discriminatory advertisements for housing, employment, or financial services.

The Joint Center argued that Congress—rather than the Trump Administration’s retaliatory executive order and petition to the FCC—should drive clarifications of Section 230.  Specifically, Congress should explicitly acknowledge what is already the law—that federal and state civil rights legal penalties can apply to social media platforms when they target employment and housing ads away from Black communities, and when they target voter suppression ads toward Black communities (as was the case in 2016 when the Russian Internet Research Agency paid Facebook to target voter suppression ads at Black voters).

Click here to read the full 19-page document submitted to the FCC by the Joint Center.