WASHINGTON – On Thursday, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai announced the agency’s plans to move forward on new rules to govern content moderation on  social-media platforms and other websites that feature third-party content.

The FCC move comes in response to a White House executive order from May that seeks to punish social-media companies for fact checking President Trump’s online posts. Under the order, the FCC was prompted to craft a rule that would potentially take away from social-media companies protections granted in Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a federal law that generally shields companies from legal liability for the material their users post online.

“The commission’s general counsel has informed me that the FCC has the legal authority to interpret Sec. 230,” Pai said in a statement announcing his intention to begin a rulemaking process on the matter.

In August, Free Press joined a lawsuit challenging Trump’s executive order. The suit asserts that this unconstitutional order effectively encourages the spread of harmful disinformation about voting rights, racial-justice protests, COVID-19 treatment and other vital issues. In September, Free Press filed FCC comments opposing the kind of move Pai seems bent on making with today’s announcement.

Free Press Senior Policy Counsel Gaurav Laroia made the following statement:

“With this announcement, the Pai Doctrine gets clearer and clearer. He declares himself a champion of the First Amendment and claims he doesn’t want heavy-handed internet regulation — then pushes policies that stifle free expression online. In this case, the Pai Doctrine would expose websites to liability if they remove any of President Trump’s lies or provide any context to such disinformation.

“The FCC has no authority to issue binding pronouncements on Section 230. Its effort to make the platforms liable for their editorializing or content takedowns makes no sense. No one, from Trump on down, has the right to be carried on Facebook, Twitter or any other website — and those websites have a First Amendment right to disassociate themselves from speech they disapprove of. And without underlying unlawfulness there’s nothing for Trump or anyone else to sue over if Twitter takes down a post.

“The real goal of the Trump FCC here is to engage in political retaliation against protected speech and editorializing. Surely President Trump and Chairman Pai can’t suggest that Twitter should be liable for carrying the president’s lies. The intent instead is to force platforms to carry these lies, and open them up to lawsuits for everything else their users post if the platforms dare to refuse this kind of presidential commandeering.

“The FCC is proposing nothing less than a Fairness Doctrine for Facebook, and a must-carry regime for fraudsters, propagandists, bigots, charlatans and those in power who inspire, provoke and promote them.

“It’s no coincidence that this charade is happening during the final weeks of the 2020 presidential election. The Trump administration and its FCC allies are trying to bully and intimidate social-media companies into rolling back their content-moderation efforts for election-related disinformation.

“This FCC proceeding is a hypocritical and cynical enterprise that threatens online diversity, our fundamental freedoms and the rule of law.”