We’ve mentioned at great length how Trump’s executive order to more heavily “regulate” social media is an unworkable joke. It attempts to tackle a problem that doesn’t exist (“Conservative censorship”) by attacking a law that actually protects free speech (Section 230), all to be enforced by agencies (like the FCC) that don’t actually have the authority to do anything of the sort. You can’t overrule the law by executive order or regulatory fiat, nor can you ignore the Constitution. The EO is a dumb joke by folks who don’t understand how any of this works, and it should be treated as such.
Instead, most press coverage of the move is still somehow framed as “very serious adult policy,” despite being little more than a glorified brain fart.
The FCC also knows the order is unworkable garbage that flies directly in the face of years of espoused (government hands off) ideology by Ajit Pai, Brendan Carr and friends. And yet, terrified of upsetting dear leader, Pai issued a totally feckless statement on Monday stating the EO would be pushed through the rule-making process, pretending as if this was all just ordinary, sensible tech policy:
Today, the @FCC's Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau will invite public input on the petition for rulemaking recently filed by @CommerceGov regarding #Section230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996. My statement is below. pic.twitter.com/RSwm5suq9z
— Ajit Pai (@AjitPaiFCC) August 3, 2020
This is, you’ll recall, the same guy who spent the last eight years insisting that fairly modest consumer protections governing telecom monopolies (net neutrality, privacy) was a vile example of “government run amok.” It’s the same guy whose entire policy platform revolves around the idea that hands off, limited government oversight universally results in near-mystical outcomes. The order to have the FCC regulate social media giants runs in stark contrast to nearly everything Pai professes to believe, including his adoration of free speech (since eliminating 230 would all but guarantee less of it). And yet he’s completely unwilling to make so much as a cautiously critical peep.
Even if Pai’s worried that he’ll just be replaced by Carr (whose somehow even worse about intellectual consistency) for showing the slightest shred of backbone, there are ways that Pai could express his disdain for this order without upsetting King Donald (perhaps just use big words). But Pai does nothing of the sort. He’s completely selling out everything he believes in to make Donald happy. Not only that, he attempts to frame the idea that we should shut down an idiotic assault on free speech before wasting everybody’s time as itself an attack on free speech.
As a result we’re wasting agency time and taxpayer resources (during a pandemic no less when 42 million Americans lack broadband, something actually under FCC authority) to pursue an inherently dumb and dangerous idea.
Now we move on to the next step in pretending this is real policy: opening the FCC comment system to 45 day of public comments. Except as we saw with the net neutrality repeal (in which the telecom industry used fake and dead people to support terrible and unpopular policy), the FCC doesn’t actually do much to prevent fraud or abuse. So anybody eager to see Silicon Valley saddled with additional regulatory oversight (like its ad competitors in telecom or K Street political operatives) are going to stuff the ballot box with nonsense, taking us further down the rabbit hole of pretending Trump’s EO is serious adult policy making.
In short we’ve got a garbage, unworkable proposal being shuffled through elaborate NTIA and FCC policy making system at taxpayer expense during a crisis, all “supported” by people too afraid of Donald Trump to show even the faintest hint of consistency or backbone. In other words, just another ordinary Monday in Washington.