Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Commissioner Mike O’Rielly’s skepticism on the agency’s ability to reform Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act signals that any reform is “dead on arrival,” one source familiar with the White House’s thinking told Breitbart News on Monday.
O’Rielly told C-SPAN in an interview last Friday that although he sympathizes with President Donald Trump’s argument that social media giants continue to censor conservative and alternative voices, he cautioned that “what we do about that is a different story.”
O’Rielly questioned during the interview whether Congress provided the FCC with the statutory authority to reform Section 230.
He asked rhetorically, “Did Congress provide us authority to act?”
“I have deep reservations they provided any intentional authority for this matter, but I want to listen to people,” he added.
O’Rielly said, “I do not believe it is the right of the agency to read into the statute authority that is not there.”
O’Rielly’s interview arises as the commissioner has a renomination hearing at the Senate Commerce Committee on Tuesday.
The commissioner’s comments follow as Trump signed an executive order tasking the Commerce Department to draft a proposal and then petition the FCC to clarify provisions within Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act that would address social media censorship.
The FCC would then vote on the measure, which is controlled by a majority of three Republicans: O’Rielly, Brendan Carr, and FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.
Carr praised Trump’s executive order and contended that the federal government has provided little guidance on the “good faith” clause in Section 230.
Pai has yet to signal where he stands on the social media executive order; however, Pai said in 2018 that the country needs to think “seriously” about making social media companies abide by “new transparency requirements regarding censorship and privacy” in a similar manner to how Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are regulated.
Any measure updating or clarifying Section 230 would likely have to pass on partisan, Republican, lines, and O’Rielly’s skepticism on the FCC’s ability to reform Section 230 could jeopardize any measure to update the decades-old telecommunications law.
A source familiar with the White House’s thinking told Breitbart News on Monday that O’Rielly’s comment could signal disaster for Section 230 reform.
The source said, “Section 230 reform is a top priority for the White House, and this is frustrating because it signals that those reforms are dead on arrival.”
Section 230 reform has increasingly become a top interest for Congress.
Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Kelly Loeffler (R-GA), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), and Josh Hawley (R-MO) sent a letter to Pai, asking the agency to clearly define the criteria for which big tech companies can receive legal immunity for moderating content on their platforms.
“The unequal treatment of different points of view across social media presents a mounting threat to free speech. This Executive Order is an important step in addressing this form of censorship,” the senators wrote to Pai last week.
Rachel Bovard, a senior fellow for the conservative tech think tank the Internet Accountability Project (IAP), told Breitbart News in an interview on Monday that she expects the Section 230 to arise during O’Rielly’s questioning during Tuesday’s Commerce Committee renomination hearing.
“I definitely expect it would come up during his nomination hearings,” she said. “It is a huge area right now for the left and right.”
Bovard said that regardless of whether Trump’s executive order will lead to Section 230 reform through the FCC, the action has shed light on big tech’s legal immunity.
She said that the order raises questions over if the FCC has the “authority that O’Rielly is mentioning,” and “then there’s the political angle that is less appreciated by the tech world, which is that millions of people that didn’t know what Section 230 a month ago are very focused on it. I think there’s a huge sort of political groundswell focused on what was formerly an obscure statute is not good for people to preserve it as is — you’re putting a political emphasis on legislators to have an opinion it, to act on it, you have to appreciate what Trump did in regards to it.”
Bovard noted that many people did not notice “how big a win it was for Trump and how big an own goal it was for the tech industry. Twitter pushed him in that direction.”
Sean Moran is a congressional reporter for Breitbart News. Follow him on Twitter @SeanMoran3.