Free Speech

California Congressman Ro Khanna Calls for "Fairness Doctrine for the Internet"

Also for the FCC to police supposed "blatant falsity."

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

From Today's Politico Morning Tech:

Silicon Valley congressman weighs in on Silicon Valley CEO: "The decisions of speech on the internet should not be left to billionaire tech leaders, no matter what their intentions," Silicon Valley Rep. Ro Khanna said Monday, referring to Zuckerberg's decision to leave Trump's inflammatory social media posts alone. "We need a fairness doctrine for the internet in the 21st century. The FCC should make sure that aggrieved parties have the right to reply and that blatant falsity is not protected."

Not clear exactly what he's proposing, and how the Fairness Doctrine (which required broadcasters to carry responses to political views that they had broadcast) would interact with the quite different topic of bans on what the FCC views as "blatant falsity." But it's interesting to see politicians on the Left as well as the Right faulting the editorial choices of "billionaire tech leaders," and calling for more FCC regulation of social media platforms' behavior.

At least in theory, President Trump's attempt to rein in "billionaire tech leaders" through his Executive Order (with the FCC's help) would pressure platforms to restrict speech less, while Rep. Khanna's call for the FCC to suppress "blatant falsity" would involve the government restricting speech more. But I'm skeptical that either proposal would help free speech or public debate in practice: You can see more about the President's approach in my posts last week about the Order, see especially this one, as well as this post about the statutory background and this post about the political costs of a true viewpoint-neutrality rule (which would also apply to a true "fairness doctrine" rule). The final version of the order was slightly different from the one about which I was writing, but I think my analysis in those posts remains sound.

NEXT: President Trump Calls for Flag-Burning Bans

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Funny how Zuckerberg went from Obama’s tech darling to a Republican propaganda outlet in the minds of liberals because he opposed heavy handed content moderation policies.

    1. That’s how it goes. You hear the story of the liberal African American Female politician who just decided to thank Trump?

      Democrats threw her out on her rear end.

    2. Well, “even heavier handed” content moderation, anyway. FB can be pretty heavy handed at times as it is.

      1. If you want some perspective, visit Reddit

      2. If you don’t like FB’s content moderation, stop using FB.

    3. Zuckerberg has a relationship with Trump through Kushner. So Trump signs executive orders to help the Kushners’ Obamacare health insurance company and Kushner uses his relationship with Zuckerberg to help Trump…why do you think Obamacare is stronger than ever after Trump said he would repeal it???

      1. “why do you think Obamacare is stronger than ever after Trump said he would repeal it???”

        Because Trump is incompetent and ineffective.

        1. Josh Kushner isn’t incompetent though and he is obviously telling Jared what EOs are necessary to improve Obamacare AND make his company more competitive.

          1. Trump signing EOs doesn’t have nearly the level of effect that you (and he) like to imagine.

  2. I don’t understand why everyone is freaking out about the tech platforms. Everything is fine the way it is. Alternative communication channels are just a click away.

    1. Probably because they act as a major source of information transfer and can shape the social conversation and elections.

      There are reports that simply by biasing Google results, Google can shift election results by 2% either way. If they chose to.

      1. And the creators earned that power honestly.

        1. LOL…of course they did.

          But I wasn’t aware that Google’s corporate board was worth 10 million voters. That shows me.

          1. 10 million weak minded voters who would just as easily be bought with TV ads

            1. It is a shame that racist Republicans are trying to suppress voter turnout! American is a democracy and everyone deserves the right to vote.

            2. Ah yes. “weak-minded voters.”

              Good thing their voters are worth exactly as much as a “strong-minded” voter. Whatever that is.

              1. A week minded voter see a political ad and immediately changes his/her vote because they liked the production value.

                1. Why does such a voter have a seven-day period on his mind?

          2. It’s hard to understand your complaint without also knowing what you are proposing. Would it be legislation that does… what exactly? Breaks up Google to address your size concern? Unbias their “biasing” results, whatever you mean by that? How would you police that? The Government Ministry of Bias?

            1. Daily national referendums.

            2. Sorry, would you like a more complete response here. Sure.

              Google is not (to my knowledge) currently biasing search results for political gain. Now, if they did do so, in a major and significant way, they would be using their monopolistic power for advantage in a different market. This would require the company to be broken up substantially.

              1. If Google must not abuse its monopolistic power in order to not be broken up, then what’s the problem to begin with?

              2. Google isn’t a monopoly. There is no evidence that Google has monopoly power. And Google’s decision to bias its results wouldn’t be an antitrust issue unless it was an attempt to increase price above marginal cost.

                What the fuck are you talking about re: “different market”?

              3. What, exactly, is Google currently monopolizing? They have a tough competitor in Microsoft in most of their key product areas, and with other competitors such as Apple in others. (IoS competes with Android, even if Microsoft Windows phone is dead and abandoned.)

        2. My bank came by it’s money honestly, that doesn’t mean that once they’ve got all those deposits, they should resort to embezzling the money.

          Feeding users rigged search results is the search engine equivalent of embezzlement; The point of earning people’s trust should be something more than just gaining a chance to abuse it.

          1. Well if you think Google has breached the terms of your agreement with them, and you’ve suffered damages, go sue them and get some of that cool cash. I’m sure you can at least scare them into returning all the money you paid to use their search engine.

          2. You are intent, personally, on taking control of a product you don’t own? I would say you are the fraudster.

          3. When did the search results first get rigged? When Google became successful?

          4. “Feeding users rigged search results is the search engine equivalent of embezzlement; The point of earning people’s trust should be something more than just gaining a chance to abuse it”

            So don’t use the search product. Problem solved.

            Here’s a hint: Google turned their search product into a viable product by delivering what people wanted at the price they wanted to pay, and then figuring out how to get other people to pay for it. That second part only works because of the first part. So if you’re searching for oddball irrational conspiracy-oriented idelogical rants, and they aren’t pulling the exact rants you want, develop a better product and offer it at a better price. The Internet as a whole has shown a willingness to adopt new products and new competitors and to reward the ones who deliver a product people want. AOL got big enough to swallow Time-Life, and then it got small enough that you can probably find a video on Youtube titled “10 things only AOL users will remember”, and Netscape Navigator was a thing until Microsoft killed it with Internet Explorer, which itself is now a niche product, clinging to a few edge use cases.

      2. There aren’t “reports.” There was one guy in LA who did a widely debunked “study” that purported to show this.

    2. We can’t have ignorant people listening to “alternative facts”. The science is clear. Global warming is real. Vaccines work. Transgender people exist.

      1. So should transgender women not worry about coronavirus because it impacts men harder??

    3. Rightwingers are tired of getting dunked on much more disproportionately and its difficult to recreate multihundreds of billions of dollar tech platforms built up through years through massive inflows of private and public support due to inertia and other factors. We might as well throw you out of civilization and say ‘create a city yourself’. I mean when the shoes on the other foot, libs aren’t even willing to build their own cake shops.

      And even when they try activists and the tech platforms like to sabotage such efforts by doing things like getting financial institutions and payment processors and hosts to kick them to the curb and DDOSing them constantly, which being smaller they are more vulnerable to. So imagine that after you were tossed out of civilization we rode out and attacked your supply caravan and knocked over the log house you were building while wagging our finger at you saying ‘lol whats the matter? I guess you don’t have what it takes like we do!’

      Leftwingers want even more control over the platforms and can’t stand even the tiniest bit of dissent as squashed as it may be. So they have a cow of the entire platform isn’t screaming extreme left.

      1. Right wingers aren’t discriminated against on tech platforms. Snopes.com and Politico verified your statements as “False”.

      2. “Rightwingers are tired of getting dunked on much more disproportionately and its difficult to recreate multihundreds of billions of dollar tech platforms…”

        And so you, a rightwinger, are proposing you solve the market problem that apparently plagues rightwing viewpoints, with central planning and government regulation.

        Of course your entire complaint is based on a false premise. There already are non-censoring places for people to share their viewpoints. 4chan won’t ban conservative views. You can go to Minds for a no-censorship Facebook. Mastodon and Gab.ai are zero-censorship Twitter-like platforms. Gab will take your far-right views, without censoring them.

        The problem is not the invented lack of alternatives. In the 21st century there are no serious financial or other barriers to entry to creation of social platforms. Twitter’s initial series of funding was around $125K. What you’re really complaining about is that people who share your views don’t have the market clout to kill established social platforms, but the people you disagree with politically apparently do. That’s hardly surprising in this field, since interest in social platforms varies by demographic. It’s no surprise that (young people) Twitter is more aggressive about policing conservative views than (young and old people) Facebook.

        1. Oh I’d prefer an truly minimally regulated environment. But while we’re trapped in society that increasingly favors one side in the law itself, persecuting cake shops and enforcing quotas and mandatory classes about how wonderful the LKDFLDLFLJGF lobby is and subsidizes their propaganda with hundreds upon billions of grants and funding to unions and indoctrination centers with de facto mandatory attendance (universities and public ‘education’) on top of the monopolies they dominate, built in the media, cultural institutions, tech, and virtually every other major sector of society, it helps to take what you can get.

          1. Yes, you would prefer a less regulated market if the people being regulated agreed with you politically. But since they don’t, you’ll take regulation where you can get it.

            It is apparent to me that you don’t have children.

        2. “And so you, a rightwinger, are proposing you solve the market problem that apparently plagues rightwing viewpoints, with centr
          al planning and government regulation.”

          Quick question: Should this sudden interest in platform-neutrality in information-distribution systems also apply to Fox News Channel and various AM talk radio stations? How about the Wall Street Journal? Sinclair Media Group?

  3. Not surprising after the Facebook employee walkout.

    Zuck gets props here for supporting free speech, and not bending to the “restrict speech we don’t like” crowd.

    1. Is Twitter or Alphabet (Google + YouTube) the most evil social media company?

  4. Maybe that decision should not be left to “billionaire tech leaders” but it sure as hell should not be given to government bureaucrats instead.

  5. At least in theory, President Trump’s attempt to rein in “billionaire tech leaders” through his Executive Order (with the FCC’s help) would pressure platforms to restrict speech less

    I’m not following why Trump’s EO would pressure platforms to restrict speech less?

    1. Did you by any chance actually read it?

      It expressly has to do with platform censorship.

      1. Did you by any chance actually understand it? It doesn’t really do anything because Trump is the anti-TR — speak loudly and carry a small stick — but what it aims to do is punish websites that aren’t neutral. But since no website wants to turn into Gab, if a website is forced to choose between censoring nothing or censoring everything, it’s going to choose thee latter.

    2. “I’m not following why Trump’s EO would pressure platforms to restrict speech less?”

      Trump wants to yank the section 230 immunity that currently applies to user-supplied content. If you yank that immunity, then all-of-a-suddent the tech companies have to worry about being sued for anything ANYONE says using their system. That’s going to put some serious interest into making sure that nothing gets said on their system that anyone might object to, to keep the legal department from quitting en masse.

  6. It’s always interesting to see how a ‘Ted Cruz libertarian’ approaches expression issues.

  7. What we need is for Twitter, Facebook, and Google to bifurcate into liberal and conservative versions. There’s Twitter-R, Twitter-L, Facebook-R, Facebook-L, and Google-R, Google-L. That’s where this is headed.

    1. With Facebook and Twitter people can create their own echo chambers. So there is a reason Trump promoted his digital media guy to campaign manager for the 2020 campaign. So between Rush Limbaugh and Fox News and Facebook people can immerse themselves in an echo chamber of their own making.

    2. “What we need is for Twitter, Facebook, and Google to bifurcate into liberal and conservative versions. There’s Twitter-R, Twitter-L, Facebook-R, Facebook-L, and Google-R, Google-L.”

      The problem there is that some users of, say, Facebook-R will decide that Facebook-R doesn’t cater to their ideosyncracies enough, and they’ll start demanding that Facebook-R split into Facebook-R and Facebook-ExtremelyR. You already have the same thing in churches. There’s about a gazillion different “Christian” flavors and churches dedicated to serving them all. The Muslims seem to be “happy” with only two flavors of Islam. It gives them something to fight over when there aren’t any infedels to fight with. A general observation: The closer two religions are to each other, the more they fight about their differences.

  8. Tribalism is the real issue—the most “informed” Trump voters are the least informed voters by choice. No amount of fact checking or blogs like Vox or unbiased journalism is going to change the minds of the Trump voter because they will not turn against their tribe and they don’t want the tribe to exile them. The good news—America has more Democrats but they need to be energized…and Trump has energized Democrats to vote!

  9. You know, that’s a good point, the Internet *isn’t* fair, Congress should do something as soon as possible, maintaining social distancing of course, unless they’re protesting against the law I suppose, because a virus can’t spread during a mostly-peaceful protest, according to the best scientific authorities.

    1. “because a virus can’t spread during a mostly-peaceful protest”

      The virus can’t get you if you’re holding an AR-15, I believe, was the position taken by the quarantine protesters who wanted haircuts and to hang out in bars after their protests were over.

  10. Republicans didn’t object to the FCC Fairness Doctrine being discarded because at the time, they were enjoying the complete domination of AM talk radio, which they continue to own outright, and they’ve since made considerable inroads in the ownership of local broadcast television. They have no objection whatsoever to those media being highly biased.
    So, I don’t find their muttering about how unfair Big Tech is. Their system for distributing conspiracy theory will be slightly impacted if fact-checking happens. Boo Hoo.

Please to post comments