FCC Commissioner on Trump social media crackdown: companies should leave 'speech police business'

President Trump will sign an executive order on Thursday, cracking down on social media platforms Facebook and Twitter. FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr joins Yahoo Finance’s On The Move to discuss.

Video Transcript

ADAM SHAPIRO: It's the FCC news that everybody is paying attention to. And this has to do with Twitter and the president's concerns with Twitter doing fact-checking on some of his tweets. Joining us to understand what may be coming down the pike is Brendan Carr. He is an FCC commissioner.

And we've obtained a draft proposal of the executive order the president is about to sign. I don't know if you've had a chance to see it. But help us understand. There are differences for Twitter and Facebook and, quote, "social media" than there are for Yahoo Finance, or "The New York Times," or news organizations. Is that about to change?


BRENDAN CARR: Well, look, I think there is a lot of sort of paid apologists for Twitter that are in DC right now that are running interference on this issue and putting out a lot of misinformation. I think the bottom line is this. Everybody has First Amendment. Everybody has free speech rights.

What these platforms have that other entities don't have that are also political actors are these special protections under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. And that existing law has always said that if you engage in bad-faith take downs, you don't get those bonus protections. And I think given what we've seen over the past few weeks, it makes sense to let the public weigh in and say, is that really what Congress meant when they passed and provided those special protections?

JULIE HYMAN: But Commissioner, it's Julie here. How do you regulate when someone has effectively made what could be argued is a slanderous or libel kind of claim against another individual on one of these platforms? I mean, how do you approach that kind of speech, which is typically not necessarily protected?

BRENDAN CARR: Yeah, we have those claims and those issues. And we deal with that in this country all the time. You know, you look at CNN. You look at Fox. You look at "New York Times."

As you mentioned, all of them have a level playing field. They are protected by the First Amendment. What they don't have is that one set of political actors, don't have the extra benefits of Section 230.

And, again, I think when you look at what's going on with these, quote, unquote, "fact checks," these aren't fact checks. These are political editorials. This is Twitter choosing to engage in a political debate with the president.

And you saw last night Jack Dorsey backtracked on the original fact check that he did and now is offering a new reason to offer another fact check on that same tweet.

JULIE HYMAN: But what about a fact check on-- excuse me for just a second-- that's accusing someone of murder? I mean, that's not something that Twitter yet has, quote, unquote, "fact checked." But how do you approach that kind of speech?

BRENDAN CARR: Again, there are background principles of First Amendment law that apply whenever someone wants to bring either a libel or a slander case. And that's just existing law, existing precedent that applies to all sorts of different platforms and speakers. What's different here is these extra protections of 230, and a debate about whether did Congress really intend those to apply in this type of a circumstance.

ADAM SHAPIRO: So Commissioner-- and we should point out, you were appointed by President Trump. You were counsel at the FCC and then appointed by President Trump to the commission. Should Nancy Pelosi be able to sue Facebook if they run that, you know, video of her allegedly drunk? Should the husband of this dead woman at the center of these tweets from President Trump be allowed to sue President Trump and, say, not Twitter?

BRENDAN CARR: Look, I think if you look at, you know, Facebook, they deserve some credit here. They've tried to draw the line on free speech. They've been called-- you mentioned the Pelosi videos that were out there.

They've been called to take down those videos. And they drew a line in the sand. And they said, no, we want people to decide for themselves whether to subscribe and look at this content or not.

I've called for just turning off these biased filters altogether. If you don't want MSNBC to fact-check your feed for you, you should have the option not to. If you want to do that, you should be empowered to do it.

But this entire--

ADAM SHAPIRO: Should the husband of the dead woman be allowed to sue the president, though? I mean, essentially, it's her name, his last name, that's being slandered.

BRENDAN CARR: Well, look, the question in these cases in the way it's posed is whether the platforms themselves not only have the First Amendment rights that everybody has, but should they have the extra protection in any case that's brought by anybody to these 230 protections? And I think some of the insertion of partisan political politics in these discussions just raises questions about how does this existing law apply in light of these activities?

JULIE HYMAN: Right, but Brendan, we're not talking about partisan political protections. We're talking about truth and fiction. And if "The New York Times," or CNN, or MSNBC publishes something that is not true, then they can be held accountable.

If Facebook publishes something-- because, effectively, they are a publisher. If they publish something by an author that is not true, shouldn't they be held accountable in the same way that those other media organizations that you're speaking about are held accountable?

I mean, I feel like we're talking about two separate issues here. And we're talking about treating these two entities-- two types of entities differently. Shouldn't they be treated the same?

BRENDAN CARR: You know, look, there is no oracle of truth. And people say, look, there's easy cases--

JULIE HYMAN: There is fact and fiction, though. There's no oracle of truth. But there is fact, and there is not fact that is--


JULIE HYMAN: --able to be proven one way or the other. Someone either killed someone, or they did not. There is fact and fiction there.

BRENDAN CARR: When Representative Swalwell tweeted, stop wearing masks, and then later tweeted, you should be wearing masks, that's an example of how, in theory, people say, this stuff is easy to police, but it's much more difficult in practice. My view is these platforms should get out of the speech police business. I've made this case for a long time.

It is a fraught path. These aren't decisions that are being made from people other than those that are either people in power, or people that are biased, or people that are fallible. That's why I think it's much better to empower users to make these decisions for themselves.

ADAM SHAPIRO: And lastly, should-- if I'm the president of the United States, should I be allowed to yell "fire" in a crowded theater?

BRENDAN CARR: The First Amendment absolutely protects the president's speech. He's not exempt from those First Amendment protections.

ADAM SHAPIRO: All right, Brendan Carr is an FCC commissioner. We're waiting for President Trump to sign that executive order. Thank you very much for joining us here on "The Move."