FCC Chairman Ajit Pai talking while standing in front of an FCC seal.
Enlarge / FCC Chairman Ajit Pai on December 14, 2017, in Washington, DC, the day of the FCC’s vote to repeal net neutrality rules.

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai has turned the FCC into “a political appendage of President Trump’s campaign” by aiding Trump’s battle against social media websites, two House Democrats said yesterday.

“Chairman Pai’s decision to start a Section 230 rulemaking is a blatant attempt to help a flailing President Trump,” said Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) and Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Mike Doyle (D-Penn.). “The timing and hurried nature of this decision makes clear it’s being done to influence social media companies’ behavior leading up to an election, and it is shocking to watch this supposedly independent regulatory agency jump at the opportunity to become a political appendage of President Trump’s campaign.”

On Thursday last week, Pai announced that he is backing President Trump’s proposal to limit legal protections for social media websites that block or modify content posted by users. Pai said he will propose a new interpretation of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, limiting the legal immunity websites like Facebook and Twitter are granted when they block or screen content. Trump claims the companies are biased against conservatives, and he wants to post on social media without the platforms adding fact checks or limiting the reach of posts that violate their rules.

Pallone and Doyle say that Pai shouldn’t help Trump in his battle against social media companies:

From the start, Republicans have used the Section 230 debate to threaten social media companies when they remove or flag disinformation and extremism on their platforms—all because of some baseless fantasy grievance that the Internet is biased against conservative views. Their approach translates into a defense of online extremism and foreign countries’ disinformation campaigns, which is a baffling and dangerous position for lawmakers to take.

Section 230 reform that creates a structure for healthier online ecosystems is needed and we are committed to seeing it done—but the FCC’s rush to push President Trump’s agenda weeks before Election Day should be seen for the reckless and politically motivated stunt that it is.

We contacted Chairman Pai’s office about the Pallone/Doyle statement today and will update this article if we get a response.

Trump stacking the FCC

The FCC is supposed to act independently from the White House, but its members are nominated by the president. Trump is trying to stack the commission by replacing Republican FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly with Nathan Simington, an administration official who shares Trump’s views on Section 230. Simington’s nomination is pending Senate approval.