Schneider: Do Not Let the Government Control Speech on the Internet

Ajit Pai
The Associated Press

Why does the Left want the government to take over the internet? For the same reasons that Barack Obama and Ajit Pai’s predecessors at the FCC tried to put their cops into newsrooms around the country: to control what Americans read, hear, view, and think.

Back in 2014, then-Commissioner Pai heroically stopped the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) from hijacking free speech rights and blew the whistle on the Obama Administration’s efforts to control the press. While Pai prevented a further erosion of press freedom, the Obama Administration’s numerous assaults on the internet and free speech rights resulted in America experiencing “one of the most significant declines” in press freedom anywhere in the world, according to Reporters Without Borders in 2014. Indeed, the US precipitously dropped to 46th place on the RWB World Press Freedom Index that year, placing America at the same level as Romania, Trinidad and Tobago, and Haiti.

The Left is now conjuring up marketing slogans like “open internet” to obfuscate the real issue. They want Americans to believe that nationalizing the internet is the only thing that can save it from… well, something.  Nobody on their side has yet to identify or define any actual harm or threat, but they’re desperate to convince Americans that there is a harm somewhere, and only they can save us from ourselves. Conservatives recognize that they are already battling against leftist Silicon Valley. There is enough to worry about with Snopes defining “fake news” for Facebook, without having Snopes work for the FCC.

The truth is that there has long been a mechanism for the federal government to protect consumers from potential abuse or misuse of the internet. Congress vested that power in the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), a cousin of the FCC. For example, just last week the FTC warned social media influencers to stop “stealth ads,” essentially infomercials for millennials. But, while the FTC has the authority to prevent deceptive trade practices and fraud, it cannot control content, which is exactly what the Left wants the government to do.

Controlling content, however, is the last thing we should want from our government. That is why the first thing the Founding Fathers included in the Bill of Rights prevents the government from “abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.” But the Left’s zeal to fundamentally transform America has no boundaries, including weaponizing the means by which Americans get their news.

Commissioner Pai stopped the FCC’s initiative to put cops into newsrooms, but that was not the FCC’s first effort at censorship. Shortly after assuming office President Obama appointed Mark Lloyd to the FCC as the agency’s associate general counsel and chief diversity officer. Lloyd is well known for his efforts to use the FCC to threaten the broadcast licenses of radio stations that serve up shows that dissect current events from a conservative perspective. It was of little surprise, then, when Rush Limbaugh’s show was threatened with removal.

Or how about Fox News reporter James Rosen?  His political views are not known, but he certainly does not toe the liberal line in his reporting. So, when he used “routine reporting practices” to get information from the State Department that the Obama Administration did not want disclosed, Obama’s Justice Department named Rosen a “co-conspirator” and, according to the Washington Post, “threatened to criminalize press freedoms protected by the First Amendment.”

The Left’s attacks on free speech included help from the IRS (conservatives will not soon forget Lois Lerner’s targeting of conservative groups) and the Federal Election Commission (FEC).  FEC Chairwoman Ann Ravel did everything in her power to regulate books, satellite radio, and internet-based news media containing political philosophy. Fortunately, the FEC, the IRS, and the DOJ all failed in their efforts to control speech.  The prior Administration’s only successful venture into regulating free speech occurred at the FCC when the prior chairman launched his takeover of the internet.

That is why Leftists like Susan Crawford (a former Obama White House commissioned officer and now a member of Bill de Blasio’s Broadband Task Force in New York City) and Gigi Sohn (a former Obama political appointee at the FCC and now a Senior Fellow at George Soros’ Foundation) have used scare tactics and their friends in the liberal media to circle the wagons.  They fought hard to secure their government takeover of the internet, and they don’t want to give it back. I have only six words for George Soros and his followers:  Americans still support the First Amendment!

We believe current FCC Chairman Ajit Pai is prepared to finish the job and liberate the internet from Obama’s government takeover.  Americans should cheer Chairman Pai’s promotion to chairman.  His courage and resolve make him our best hope for making sure that an open internet is a reality instead of a deceptive campaign slogan.

Dan Schneider is executive director of the American Conservative Union.