Ajit Pai on Net Neutrality, 5G, and Why He Wants To 'Clarify' Section 230

The outgoing FCC chairman discusses 'light-touch' regulation and the future of free speech on the internet.


How much does President Donald Trump hate Section 230, the controversial law that gives internet service providers, website operators, and social media platforms broad immunity from legal responsibility for user-generated content? He's threatened to veto funding for the military unless Congress "completely terminates" the law, which also allows social media sites to moderate or ban speech they don't like.

Trump is joined in his contempt for Section 230 by President-elect Joe Biden, who earlier this year said the law should be "revoked immediately." Democrats argue that Section 230 allows hate speech and misinformation to proliferate and throw elections, while Republicans say that it's used to squelch conservative voices in the public square. What comes next?

Enter Ajit Pai, the chairman of the Federal Communication Commission. In October, after President Trump went on a tear about Twitter and Facebook restricting access to a New York Post story critical of Joe Biden's son Hunter, Pai said the FCC would be looking to clarify Section 230. Even though he's announced he's stepping down on January 20th and that Congress has ultimate responsibility for passing laws governing online speech, what Pai does in his final weeks could have a lasting impact.

Nick Gillespie spoke with him the day before the Reason Foundation, the nonprofit that publishes this podcast, awarded Pai the Sixth Annual Savas Award for Privatization for his market-friendly policies, including facilitating the growth of 5G networks and ending FCC regulation of internet service providers commonly known as Net Neutrality. Pai discusses what sorts of reforms or revisions of Section 230 he supports, what he's most proud of accomplishing at the FCC, and whether he thinks free speech—especially online—has much of a future.

NEXT: Lockdowns and Leviathan

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. From the people who declared not passing net neutrality would destroy the internet.

    1. Hey graaaad-skuuul dorp-out who usually doesn’t even bother to SPELL shit correctly, for us to read! Can you READ and comprehend the below?!?!

      Some gratitude, JesseSPAZ, for what Reason.com does for you for FREE!!! When a neighbor lends you tools (for FREE), which you never return, or return broken… And the neighbor, in turn, STOPS lending you tools, do you find “invisible contractual clauses”, and run crying to Government Almighty to FORCE your neighbor to lend you MORE tools? What are the limits to your greed and evil, to your unquenchable thirst, JesseSPAZ?

      This calls for a moderate-length analogy.

      I lend you a tool, or some money… Largely out of the goodness of my heart… No profit to me! The spoken or unspoken, written or unwritten, agreement (“contract”) is, you pay me back, at a decently high priority, or give me a tool back, in the same condition that I lent it to you.
      (I have had the following types of things happen to me…) Never get paid back, or borrower goes on fancy vacation and brags about it on FaceBook, instead of paying me back… Never returns the tool… Returns the tool broken… Makes me feel like a nagging asshole, to be repeatedly asking for MY money and-or tool(s) back. At the logical extreme (haven’t had this one happen to me, YET!) they go running and crying to Government Almighty, and threaten to SUE me, if I break some invisible (or made-up) contract provision, whereby they INSIST that I CONTINUE to lend them more money or tools, despite their bad behavior!
      This kind of asshole behavior “erodes social capital”, or trust. It is NOT the way to “love one’s neighbors”! I hardly ever lend out money or tools any more… Because of the human “tools” that I have had to deal with here!
      This is a straight-forward analogy to abusing the “social trust” of web sites who allow us to post on their web sites for FREE! And then we make made-up, or invisible-ink, “contract clauses” that aren’t there! And lust after SUING them! An abuse of “social capital”! If you’re not enough of an asshole to do this to your friend or your neighbor, WHY would you do it to (for example) Reason.com?
      Oh, Reason.com is “impure of motives”, you might argue, because your comments might help VERY slightly, to attract you and others to their web site, and help them to sell advertising! Well, whoop-de-do! You could question my motives in lending you money or tools as well! I was just trying to “enhance my social reputation” of being a good dude or dudette, right? So that gives you license to shit on me, and break REAL contracts, NOT imaginary ones?!
      At the end of the day, these kinds of behavior erode social trust, or social capital! It is the way of assholes, NOT of decent folks!

      HOW do bad-faith actors treat (for example) Reason.com shabbily, and “break my loaned-out tool”, in the analogy?
      By making UTTERLY NASTY (ultra-racist for example) posts, all day every day, to the point that (as a result) many readers and advertisers BOYCOTT the web site and magazine! And INSIST that their FREE posts MUST stay up, “or else”!

      That should be pretty clear! Even for a graaaad-skuuul dorp-out!

    2. Google pays for every Person every hour online working from home job. I have received $23K in this month easily and I earns every weeks $5K to 8$K on the internet. Afg Every Person join this working easily by just just open this website and follow instructions………. for more info visit any tab this site Thanks a lot .

      Here………… ……………..Work At Home

    3. I am now making moree than 350 dollars per day by working online from home without investing any money.Join this link posting job now and start earning without investing Or selling anything.

      Follow Instructions Here……….. Home Profit System

  2. Section 230 is what allows the Reason Commentariat to even exist.

    1. Isn’t the intended purpose of Section 230 to eliminate the need for companies like facebook, twitter, YouTube, etc. to engage in the kind of censorship/deplatforming they’ve been engaged in for more than 5 years?

      Didn’t every one of those companies oppose the elimination of “Net Neutrality”? Or at least the version of such that applied to corporations which own the physical infrastructure that’s used by a shrinking fraction of users to access the software “platform” operations which actually hold market shares which could qualify them as having the kind of monopoly power that Title 2 regulation was designed to control?

      Aren’t the ideologues who warned of the dangers of “a few big corporations controlling what information and ideas users are allowed to see or communicate” in 2017 now the ones demanding new regulation that would actually require some of the world’s biggest corporations (counting by Market Cap, anyway) to start controlling what information and ideas users should be allowed to see or communicate?

      1. No, it means they don’t have to be perfect in their moderation. Before 230 the choices were review every post, or not allow posts at all. But 230 allows them to be a bit lax, to moderate after the fact, etc.

        It’s not about social media, it’s about ALL FORUMS, ALL COMMENT SECTIONS. Including Reason.

        It means Reason is not liable for publishing your comment. It means Facebook is not liable for what you post. Jack Dorsey is not personally liable for your tweets.

        Companies moderate to keep a civil atmosphere, to keep their customers, to keep from descending into the muck. Reason is very very lax on moderating, but moderating is stuff a site does voluntarily, not because they are required to. Get rid of 230 and the government starts cracking down on sites like Reason. It means Facebook starts dropping all posts that even have a hint of questionable stuff. It’s not trivial.

        1. Google pays for every Person every hour online working from home job. I have received $23K in this month easily and I earns every weeks $5K to 8$K on the internet. Ajh Every Person join this working easily by just just open this website and follow instructions………….. Visit Here

        2. Any full repeal of Section 230 is overkill, but if the basis of protecting a “platform” operator from a need to exercise editorial control over user-generated content, then that protection should only apply to forums which do not engage in that kind of control.

          To pretend that Reason’s comment boards and facebook are somehow “equivalent” is insanity. I’ve seen no indication that the publishers of Reason exercise any kind of curation on these boards (the sheer number of spam/scam “make millions working 3 hours a month from home” posts should be proof of that), not to mention that the Reason Foundation has no real control over anyone’s access to the public in general. Whereas facebook and google/alphabet (on both search and youtube) have been suppressing certain opinions and promoting others via both active (live intervention) and passive (algorithms controlling what can and can’t “trend”) methods, and has been doing so for years while also controlling a huge portion of all online advertisement distribution (in 2017, the combination of google/alphabet and facebook held a combined market share of something like 96% over the entire U.S. internet).

          If the “platform” companies such as facebook, google/alphabet, and twitter are all going to engage in direct editorial control over communication on their software platforms, then it’s not unreasonable to hold them accountable for their editorial choices of which user generated content is or isn’t being suppressed/promoted; especially so if they’re going to use that control to promote one ideology’s propaganda while suppressing another’s for being propaganda.

          Since these companies also were all strong advocates in support of a “net neutrality” scheme which only imposed control on physical network operators (who are only a portion of the systems used for online communications) I also don’t think it’s unreasonable to subject them to the kind of regulation which they were very aggressive in supporting to be imposed on Cable ISPs; especially since the basis of their argument was that those ISPs might someday via consolidation acquire more than a 50% share of the physical means by which those same users accessed their software and then might somehow try to leverage that power to exercise editorial control over what those users could see or say online.

          1. “but if the basis of protecting a “platform” operator from a need to exercise editorial control over user-generated content, then that protection should only apply to forums which do not engage in that kind of control.”

            That’s like saying if electric lights eliminate the need to have candles in your home, then only homes without candles should be allowed to have electricity

            While Section 230 eliminates a requirement to moderate, it doesn’t (nor should it) create a requirement to *not* moderate

            1. In terms of the “spirit of the law”, there’s a tonal difference between moderation to stop the actual KKK from recruiting on a platform and moderation to suppress or silence any expression of though that’s more than slightly divergent from left-progressive orthodoxy. In a “classical liberal” interpretation of the concept of free speech, there isn’t really a distinction, but that’s probably not the intended extent of Section 230 since it’s part of a larger “decency” law that’s not rooted in an absolutist conception of free speech.

              A comparison of how the treatment of the “Hunter Biden Laptop” stories and the “Steele Dossier” stories were treated, for example; both were highly salacious, had questionable real veracity, and a direct bearing on an ongoing election campaign, the primary difference being that one story was harmful to a candidate that the corporate leadership and culture of the monopoly platforms opposed, and one was harmful to a candidate they supported. One story was allowed/encouraged to “trend” even as it was being exposes as more and more questionable, and the other was suppressed to the point that the twitter account of a major newspaper from one of the country’s biggest cities was completely silenced on twitter for having reported on that particular story. The choice to silence one story and propagate the other isn’t a “user-generated” decision, it’s an active choice made by the management and leadership of the platform company, and therefore represents an expression of their viewpoint above and beyond the expression of user views which they can’t and shouldn’t be expected to control.

              Since Section 230 protects the platforms from liability for the content of user-generated posts, is there a justification to extend that protection to also apply to not holding these corporations liable for their choices of which users to silence and which to amplify? That’s why I’ve said that a repeal of Section 230 is the wrong solution; what’s needed is a clarification or amendment to exempt the platforms’ editorial choices from such protections

              If CNN doesn’t need or get special protection for making an active choice that the Steele Dossier is something that their readers need to know about and the Biden laptop is not, then why should Jack Dorsey and twitter be protected for making that same determination due to the fact that they’re not paying the individuals who write the individual tweets?

    2. Section 230 is only “necessary” because government fucked up the obvious by taking sides in libel/slander, and the differences between publishers and platforms.

      Look at unions. Left to themselves, they are neither good nor bad. But then government granted them monopoly status, not only with closed shops, but with one union representing an entire industry, while businesses in that same industry get slammed for monopolistic practices. Then some states took the opposite side, and forbade closed shops altogether.

      That’s what happened with 230, as I understand it. There are these definitions, publisher and platform, and never the twain shall meet. A platform dare not delete nasty posts, trolls, spam, etc, lest it become a publisher liable for the content of commenters. So along came 230, saying that they could delete scabrous comments without becoming a publisher.

      It’s exactly what happens when government enters the game.

      If 230 is deleted, then Facebook, Twitter, etc wll have to either leave the trolls, spam, porn, etc in place, or they will be liable for the lies posted by commenters.

      The proper solution is simple — leave the damned companies alone. Stop pretending that deleting spam, trolls, and porn makes them a publisher, as if choosing to leave other comments alone makes them responsible for the truthiness of those other comments.

    3. Section 230 is what allows dishonest trolling to even exist.

  3. What is this “light touch regulation” of which he speaks?
    In what way is the threat of fines and jail ‘light’?
    All government regulation is heavy.

    1. This “light touch regulation” is Section 230 as it exists today! For ONCE, Government Almighty got something RIGHT! So of course, regulators right and left want to tear it down!

      SOME people here (at least one, “John”) have argued that, since there has been at least one (several?) case(s) of hardcopy rags (newspapers) sued FOR THE WRITINGS OF OTHERS, namely letter-to-the-editor writers (it was all well and good to “John” that SOME people got punished for the writings of OTHER people), then the proper fix was to perpetrate / perpetuate this obvious injustice right on over to the internet domain!

      This is like arguing that the “fix” for a cop strangling to death, a black man (Eric Garner) on suspicion of wanting to sell “loosies” is, not to STOP the injustice, but rather, to go and find some White and Hispanic and Asian men as well, and strangle them, as well, on suspicion of wanting to sell “loosies”! THAT will make it all “fair”!

      1. Newspapers check every letter to the editor they publish before hand. Newspapers also got a specific clause in the first amendment related just to them. But a website can’t read every post and approve it before it goes through. They also don’t have the protection of the press.

        Without section 230 Reason would be liable for everything posted in the commentariat, INCLUDING WOODCHIPPER REFERENCES. If you recall, a judge tried to subpoena all of **OUR** account details over a woodchipper joke. Section 230 is one of the protections preventing that.

        1. “Newspapers also got a specific clause in the first amendment related just to them. ”

          Not only haven’t they got any such thing, that they don’t have any such thing has repeatedly been discussed here at the Conspiracy, as well as pointed out by the Supreme court.

          “freedom of the press” isn’t the freedom of the newspaper industry, which took to calling themselves “the press” well after the 1st amendment was ratified. It’s everybody’s freedom in regard to use of the press, just as freedom of speech is everybody’s freedom in regard to use of their voices.

        2. The judge in question subpeonaed all of ***OUR*** records well after section 230 was passed, not even its proponents claim it prevents such action.

          Reason ***and the commenters*** wasn’t found to be liable for anything because the speech was protected by the 1A.

  4. It doesn’t matter if section 230 is repealed. Our eunuch government has no control over such matters. Any action to repeal 230 will drive a move to more federated social media networks, which will easily subvert any government regulation.

    1. Still, just like with NN, it would be nice to have a little less ‘Section 230 is the 1A of the internet/freedom comes from legislation’ idiocy flying around the public sphere.

      Time was, Libertarians opposed even useless laws as they complicated/obfuscated the law and enabled authoritarians/the political class.

  5. A law that encourages free speech and free association, it is no wonder both democrats and republicans hate it so much.

    1. If not for the laws encouraging free speech and free association the future would be lost!

  6. This Pajeet made Redditors seethe because Google and Netflix convinced them that ending Net Neutrality would destroy the Internet. Good for him! He can shit on my street anytime he wants.

  7. He’s a POS who made it all worse. Net neutrality is a good thing and sabotaging a public session alone should open him up to lawsuits.

    Complete fuckface.

    1. Yes he is. Bet he starts driving truck now.

    2. Hahaha, most amusing. It’s been three years and nobody’s died from the repeal of Title II rules. Internet speeds have nearly doubled while prices dropped, and unlike Europe, the U.S. did just fine handling a massive increase in Internet usage during the pandemic. “Net Neutrality” is poison.

  8. The next FCC Chairman will be a Biden minion. Free speech has no future on the internet.

Please to post comments