FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.Photo: Alex Wong (Getty Images)
The Federal Communications Commission hasn’t begun deliberations on whether it will follow through on President Donald Trump’s executive order demanding the agency investigate websites like Facebook, Twitter, Google, and YouTube over bullshit claims of discrimination against conservatives—and punish insufficiently Trump-loving sites by stripping their Communications Decency Act Section 230 liability protections. But Wednesday was the deadline for the public to weigh in via the FCC’s public comments section, with 1,064 making it in.
Comments by trade groups, industry associations, and backstabbing corporations like AT&T have been covered elsewhere. Instead, in the spirit of our alarming tour of CPAC, we’re going to dive right into what rank-and-file Trump supporters, egged on by his obsession with mythical Silicon Valley liberal bias, submitted to the FCC. As one might suspect, it’s mainly a mess of barely coherent rants riddled with tangents on other right-wing grievances. Other consistent tropes include a seemingly purposeful refusal to provide specifics on exactly what kind of posts got the complainant in trouble with mods in the first place—certainly not anything bigoted, threatening, or dehumanizing—or a zero-sum view of the web as an ideological battleground that must be conquered by any means necessary.
We’ve put these comments below, with occasional annotations to fact-check or add context, the most egregious parts highlighted by us in bold, and with personal information of non-public individuals removed. (The comments are publicly available via the Electronic Comment Filing System under the proceeding RM-11862.) If at any point FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai or his even more luridly pro-Trump colleague Brendan Carr mentions that the vast majority of the 1,064 comments support Trump’s order, remember that these are kinds of insights they’re talking about.
People with absolutely no fucking idea what’s being debated
Rick from North Carolina:
Please reform Social Media to allow conservatine content.
Leon from Arizona:
These platforms have evolved into open air free speech zones. Editing can only take place if laws are broken: criminal activities, threats and pornography are the only line. Any arbitrary censorship violates the first amendment and should be punishable. The free flow of knowledge must not be stifled. The FCC can no longer condone muzzling citizen’s free speech rights.
The first and most basic common misperception in the comments is that companies deleting content inherently violates the First Amendment (i.e., any time a website deletes a comment, it’s unconstitutional). The First Amendment only applies to state actors. Those who air opinions online—as well as websites that delete comments—are actually exercising their free speech rights granted by the amendment. Section 230 intersects with the First Amendment, but primarily as to which user-generated content is illegal and thus falls outside 230’s liability protections.
Mark from California:
Twitter is censoring my tweets, and now has suspended my account. I believe this to be a blatant violation of the First Amendment.
Janice, one of the “Guardians of the Constitution,” from Michigan:
I am of the opinion that We the People have completely lost control of our government. The labyrinth of rules and regulations, amendments of sections and clauses of prior law, newfangled stupid insidious, invasive and Liberty crushing written laws, and the general intent of legislators at all levels of government to disregard the Constitution as the supreme law of the land and write ridiculous, unreadable acts and laws that have no direct link to their constitutionally mandated limited sphere of influence is one of the overriding problems of our time. In addition to this problem is the continued assault on our rights reiterated in the original ten amendments to the Constitution, including the right to freely speak our thoughts, concerns, observations and opinions, which is sacrosanct to the preservation of our Republic. Therefore it is imperative that social media giants, such as Twitter and Facebook, etc., MUST NOT have the arbitrary authority to censor one political ideology, while promoting a different political ideology – that is not the stuff of free expression for free people. I PREFER THAT ALL REGULATIONS BE REMOVED AND WE RETURN TO THE CONSTITUTION AS THE SUPREME LAW OF THE LAND; WHEREBY WE ARE ALL GIVEN ACCESS TO ALL FORMS OF MEDIA TO COMMUNICATE WITHOUT CENSORSHIP BY ANY IDEOLOGICALLY DRIVEN POWER BROKER.
Trump’s executive order would, if carried out to the letter of the word, in fact, create an entirely new, confusing regulatory apparatus dedicated to monitoring websites for policing the wrong wrongthink.
Jim from Texas:
Dear Chairman Pai, Good afternoon sir. Upon creation of the Bill of Rights, our Founding Fathers found it most important to address the freedom of speech first and foremost in Article 1. Article 1 – Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; ore the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. Our Bill of Rights are the foundation of our Republic. These are the Rights that define us as Americans and frame our Nation. We must be free to express ourselves in a healthy and respectful manner. Free speech is not a privilege, it is a Right and it must be protected. If digital content providers continue to censure our tongues, then our Republic shall experience a painful decline. It is times like this that I reflect on those brave American farmers, clerks, bakers, blacksmiths, etc. that took up arms in the Revolutionary War to gain our independence from England. Most suffered extreme hardships on the battlefield, and many did not return to their homes, but instead to unmarked graves across our country. Yes, the ultimate sacrifice so that we may live and thrive in a free society. We must continue to pursue the path our Founding Fathers put on us on, or we will surely succumb to unknown depths. I strongly urge you and your committee to stand up for our Republic and the foundation that it was built upon. Respectfully, James Caras Lucas, TX
Laura from Tennessee:
… Imagine where we would be if Cristopher Columbus had his speech censored and he wasn’t allowed to posit that the world was round and not flat. Back in his time, it was considered untrue and absurd to think the world was anything but flat. Censorship on “truth” is subjective and is being used by these media giants to silence voices on the right. It is blatantly political, repugnant, and unconstitutional. Not only that, it is the height of hubris and ignorance. It is also, likely, driven by self-interest and greed, as these companies are in bed with the very Democrats who send government money and contracts their way. I am sure Democrats have also promised them untold benefits in the future if they censor Republicans and those on the right. In addition to the grotesque advantage they are attempting to give Democrats politically, perhaps the greatest crime in what they are doing is creating division and cheating the American people. We have a right to freedom of speech in this country and any company that attempts to deprive us of those rights should be shut down.
Megan from Oklahoma, at 732 words:
Screenshot: FCC/Electronic Comment Filing System
Cahill from Texas, blessedly brief:
‘I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight, that we as a people will get to the promised land.’ -MLK
I have read about Section 230 on Breitbart or whatever
William from Texas:
It is about time that the monopolistic censoring done by tech companies, especially Google, Facebook, Youtube, Twitter and Amazon were reined in. They are claiming that they are private companies and can do whatever they want to. At the same time they are claiming protection from lawsuits for censoring because of Section 230. Legally they can’t have it both ways! Why has this been allowed.They lie through their teeth when they say they don’t censor. Look how many conservative websites that they have blocked, shadow banned or just outright censored in the last three years. They even brag about having done it on various internet sites. Breitbart News, Zerohedge, and The Gateway Pundit are just three examples of the many conservative websites that they have censored or shadow banned. I don’t want them censoring who I get my news from.
Penelope from Kansas:
As I undersatnd it, there are two types of communications companies under US law – “platforms”, who edit and curate their content (and can be sued for what they publish) and “carriers” who just get information from A to B, and don’t censor the content. If a platform (like the Wall Street Journal) publish something on their site that’s libellous, they can be sued under US law. If someone says something libellous while using a carrier (like Verizon), the carrier isn’t at fault. […]
[Rest of comment continues as a lengthy diatribe about the banning of several vitriolically transphobic subreddits, such as r/Gendercritical or r/terfisaslur.]
Even among commenters who did seem to know what CDA Section 230 is, unawareness of its basic functions was rife—perhaps understandable, given it’s a complicated topic. One of the most common misperceptions was that by deleting content or banning users, sites lose their Section 230 rights and become editorial “publishers,” making them as civilly liable for user-generated content as a newspaper that publishes slander. Many of those informed enough to know the Section 230 passages targeted by the Trump executive order, (c)(1) and (c)(2), argued incorrectly that they expose websites to liability if the sites delete content they disagree with.
Lynn from Arizona:
When companies like FaceBook and Twitter curate their content, they become publishers. At that point, their Sec230 protections as Platforms should have been voided or rescinded. Those protections must certainly be removed entirely now. There is now overwhelming data that they censor views they dislike; they are literally publishers and must be treated accordingly. Google is even worse for censoring; they’re using massive monopoly power to shut down voices and eradicate facts necessary for policy discussions needed in America. Any company, ANY, that censors/removes content other than violence/threats must be treated as a publisher. Period. Get this fixed, it’s critically important for Americans.
In fact, Section 230 (c)(1) establishes that websites and owners cannot be “treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” This broadly protects sites from being sued over the actions of its users, applying to everything from uploads to YouTube or the comments sections of editorial operations like the New York Times and Gizmodo. (There are exceptions to this, including copyright enforcement.)
Section (c)(2) separately shields platforms from facing liability for their content filtering or moderation decisions when operating in “good faith to restrict access to or availability of material that the provider or user considers to be obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable, whether or not such material is constitutionally protected.” That makes the liability protections under this provision conditional on “good faith.”
John from North Carolina:
If media companies want editorial control over users’ content, then they must also accept responsibility for content. Facebook, Google, and Twitter, retort, “We’re just a medium,” when asked about liability for BLM riots, Antifa, Isis, and others, but they want to claim to be a private entity when faced with opinions they don’t like. They can’t have it both ways.
Trump’s executive order relies on a bunch of legal gibberish. But the core concepts are that the alleged discrimination against conservatives violates the “good faith” condition of (c)(2), and that through a convoluted interpretation of the law, that somehow invalidates the separate, non-conditional protections in (c)(1). It also argues that feed rankings, fact-check labels, user bans, and comment deletions make them a “publisher or speaker” that doesn’t qualify for the (c)(1) liability protections in the first place. Experts told Gizmodo this is basically completely fabricated bullshit that, if adopted, would completely break the foundations of the internet.
The FCC also likely does not have the jurisdiction to enforce the order, as the Trump administration would probably have to prove in court the regulator’s authority extends beyond telecommunications providers and spectrum to every website based in the U.S.
I have a big idea
Shane from Texas:
People need to be protected from censorship online. The best way I can imagine is a universal standard for identity verification online. A real identity and name can be linked and publicly visible on social media accounts. Social media that want section 230 protections must offer this identity verification as an option. If they want section 230 protection anyone with a verified identity has unfettered free speech sans illegal activity. Anonymized account’s speech can be limited at the social media companies discretion to prevent unaccountable rampant hate speech and troll activity. Users with real identities can say what they please provided they are willing to put their real name on their activity.
Ralph of New Jersey (“Known as ‘The Vitamin Lawyer’”):
… When several of these quasi-private companies act in apparent concert to ban the Speech of a particular user over the Internet Public Utility they do so “under color of law” and in violation of the Freedom of Speech of both the speaker and those who seek to receive the communication.
Both Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Association are restricted through the exercise of authority depending on government. This is unlawful.
The effect of the unlawful actions of the companies is to tortuously interfere with valuable commercial relationships, between the speaker and hearer, causing substantial financial harm and damages. BTW, I note, currently, Facebook still accepts ads from certain “banned” companies. But not from others.
Such unlawful acts, and the unlawful combination to engage in such acts, may violate the provisions of RICO. The companies that are the most egregious banners include PayPal, Google, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. […]
I’m just angry at the mods
Riley from Virginia:
I used to frequent the subreddit “Chapo Trap House” and never saw any content that could be considered a threat to anyone’s wellbeing off of the site, so it is astounding to me that Reddit could even consider removing it from their website. This is censorship in the highest degree, and it is disgusting. Reddit removed Chapo Trap House at the same time they removed many right wing subreddits that were actually spreading hate (although I disagree with that decision too) and CTH was banned as an effort to appear balanced, like they were going after the right and the left. However, “a lie isn’t a side of the story, it’s just a lie.”
(Riley probably isn’t a Trump supporter, as Chapo Trap House is a left-wing podcast, but we thought the mention was funny enough to include here. Riley’s suspicions that the CTH subreddit was banned for false balance may or may not be correct in this instance, though there’s a long history of social media sites giving every appearance they’re playing that game.)
Steve from Wisconsin:
For years, social media has been censoring. I have screen captures of maybe 500 times my comments have not violated any terms of service, and yet were censored, because they did not fit the mainstream narrative. I guess on a private site, someone can do what they want, to an extent.
But these are not private sites. The are huge monopolies, owned by just a handful at the top, and they are attempting, and doing so effectively, controlling public discourse. Our 1st Amendment rights are violated.
They do not act just as “posting grounds” they act as publishers, and they should be held to account when they censor, especially when it is a clearly coordinated censorship and it is against the public interest.
This is beyond clearcut. Your actions shall be appreciated if correct. Never forgotten is false.
Specifically, the Reddit and GameFAQ mods
Stephen from Texas:
I have seen firsthand and observed other forms of censorship on Reddit.com due to ideological reasons of the moderators. This is especially prevalent in the subreddits /r/news, /r/worldnews, and /r/politics. As this is public and I do not want to jeopardize my personal safety in these current, violent times, I will not be specific in the censorship of my content personally. If you disagree with the moderators, some of whom are responsible for moderating several communities on the website, your post will be removed and you may be banned. The administrators of the site routinely remove communities based on ideological reasons. █████ ███████, (aka “████”), was found to have edited comments to then use them as reasons for punishment. Reddit and other platforms must not be allowed to censor users on ideological grounds and maintain their protections as platforms.
Alex from New York:
Javier from New Jersey:
I’ve had been censor several times not for TOS violation but due to my opinion at Gamefaqs.com own by ViacomCBS. On one occasion I was suspended for 30 days expressing my view on abortion On another occasion I was suspended for 90 days providing a defense argument on Flynn and Stone who at the time was not convicted. On another occasion I was suspended for 30 days calling for an end of the violence by Antifa On another occasion I was suspended for pointing out the abuse by the internet companies on censoring free speech. On another occasion I was suspended for 180 days pointing out questionable behavior by Ahmaud Arbery which resulted in his unfortunate death. I provided some evidence upon the white house previous request for example of censorship abuse. Furthermore I’ve show multiple people the post and have yet to find someone who consider it justifiable to suspend someone All of them they twisted and arbitrarily apply their TOS to justify the suspension. If the companies wish to be publisher so be it, but they should have their liability protection remove, the same site I mention above have had user falsely slander me on multiple occasion and took no action because my political beliefs are not inline with the moderation staff. If they wish to remain a platform they must remain neutral and not be permitted to remove speech that they simply disagree with.
Javier referenced “questionable behavior” by Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man jogging in a South Georgia neighborhood who was pursued in a truck and shot to death by three white vigilantes in February 2020. To be absolutely clear: Arbery entered a construction site, but the site owner’s attorney said nothing was stolen and Arbery may have simply been getting water from a tap. The lawyer added that while others had explored the site without permission, neighbors had a “plan to confront and capture” Arbery due to the color of his skin.
The three suspects in Arbery’s killing have been charged with felony murder, and an investigator testified that one of the suspects admitted he struck Arbery with a truck and that the shooter said “fucking [n-word]” after the killing.
GameFAQ moderators’ opinions on Arbery’s death have nothing to do with Section 230.
While we’re at it, I have been unjustly banned from LinkedIn
Beverly from Texas:
I quit Twitter 3 years ago because of the shadow banning. I’ve been permanently blocked from using LinkedIn because evidently I hurt someone’s feelings with a comment that was considered ‘hate speech.’ Even after submitting three pages of proof of what I said was true, it was still considered hateful. These tech giants should not be in the business of deciding what is hate speech and what is not. It is all free speech or it supposed to be. I look at it like this, it would be the same as the phone company listening in on your call and cutting the connection if they didn’t like what you were talking about. It’s egregious and disgusting. Please take away the tax advantage these companies claim for being open forums, because they are NOT.
Non-figurative Nazi Stuff
Luis from Texas:
Either treat social media companies as publishers or force them to allow any content that’s not illegal. YouTube is reaping the benefits of being a platform while clearly engaging in censorship of ideas they disagree with. Due to the size of their market share, free speech is even more important. Channel bans clearly affect conservative video creators disproportionately. For example, Vincent James, Alex Jones, Red Ice TV, American Renaissance, Stefan Molyneux. All prominent channels removed for wrong think. Not calls to violence or anything of that nature
Luis’s examples of “conservative video creators,” Red Ice TV and American Renaissance, are white supremacist/nationalist media outlets. Stefan Molyneux founded a group called “Free Domain Radio” that has been described as a libertarian extremist group that pressured members to cut off contact with loved ones, but more lately has focused on eugenicist pseudoscience and white nationalism. Vincent James is the founder of the California-based, extreme far-right media brand The Red Elephants. Alex Jones is, well, Alex Jones.
Vincent Foxx of California:
I had a major audience on YouTube of over 300,000 subscribers. I built a career over years, and spent thousands of hours building the audience and countless of those hours were away from my 3 kids and wife. They first demonetized me but we were able to still run paid ads. Then in July of 2019, they stopped pushing my content out to new viewers, we went from 100,000 views per video to barely 20,000. Last Tuesday they completely banned all 4 of our channels completely without any reason or warnings. Now I don’t know what I am going to do. It’s not just me either. Hundreds of prominent conservative YouTubers have been banned and thousands of prominent accounts on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. We have lists.
It’s not clear from the comment who Vincent Foxx is, or if that’s even their real name, but Vincent James Foxx (mentioned above) has been described as a propagandist or mouthpiece for violent white supremacists, anti-Semites, and/or conspiracy theorists by the Anti-Defamation League, ProPublica, Angry White Men, and OC Weekly.
According to the ADL, Foxx’s “The Red Elephants Vincent James” channel had nearly 287,000 subscribers as of August 2019, while his “Vincent James” channel had nearly 53,000 subscribers. At that time, Foxx had over 41 million views on YouTube. Videos uploaded from both accounts are now inaccessible on YouTube.
Gizmodo did not independently verify that the Vincent James from California who says he ignored his family for thousands of hours to work on YouTube is Vincent James Foxx.
Peter from an undisclosed location:
Section 230 provides a liability shield for internet platforms that remove “sexual, violent and harassing content”. Internet platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Youtube and others have extended the scope of this phrase to encompass any speech they, in their wisdom, do not like. They choose what speech to promote and what speech to suppress. In doing so, they transform themselves into publishers and should be liable for their suppression of free speech.
The actions of these internet platforms are akin to those of Nazi Germany. As Joseph Goebbels said:
Any content �which acts subversively on our future or strikes at the root of German thought, the German home and the driving forces of our people� should be destroyed. These internet platforms have merely substituted themselves in the place of the word �German�.
The suppression of free speech by internet platforms is more subversive than the book burnings of Nazi Germany. A passerby could see the fire and smell the smoke. Now, internet platforms remove speech surreptitiously in the dead of night, without popular notice or fanfare. Hitler bad a similar policy. He called it �Nacht und Nebel �
The Internet was created to be a open forum for the free exchange of ideas and content � some good, some bad, some excellent, some horrible. Free people are able to see the difference.
Carr from Oklahoma:
Twitter allows open hate speech against the world minority (Caucasians) and allows certain groups to intimidate and harass citizens out of jobs, schooling and opportunity. This malicious online lynch mob has only grown under the watchful and approving eye of Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, who also follows well known ‘doxers.’ We either have free and protected speech or we do not. We either have a fair game or we do not. Make it fair so I can openly dox and viciously harass people like Jack Dorsey without consequence or do something about it.
I was just calling for elected Democratic officials to be executed by firing squad for “treason”
Josie from Missouri:
My account on Twitter was suspended twice in a row for the same restriction for a total of 24 hours simply for asking why our public officials in the Democrat party who are openly fomenting sedition were not arrested yet and put in front of a firing squad, not naming names at all, just asking why the law wasn’t being enforced for treason, and yet a person who read my comment claimed it was a personal attack and I am currently shadowbanned for free speech. They have also threatened me with a permanent ban based on my alleged violations if their terms. And this is probably my first real suspension. The rest weren’t actually the full 12 hours because I wasn’t really a large account at first. I’m still not very large but enough big accounts retweet me that I guess I am on the radar. I’m appalled at these repeated violations of first amendment rights of conservatives but pedophiles and other criminals get a pass. And if they support Antifa or BLM especially. It’s disgusting how big tech is helping terrorists and silencing anyone opposed to them.
Hydroxychloroquine and conspiracy truthers
Valeria of Maryland:
We need forums that allow for true diversity of discourse. Social media’s big tech giants have silenced the voice of many citizens that do not agree ideologically/politically with them. They will not allow me to speak about my experiences with hydroxychloroquine on Twitter, while my children of multiple races must be confronted with images that say their white siblings must die on Facebook. I am not alone. We need you to stop the intimidation from these companies and allow and a level playing field where I can fight for my right to post about a drug I take without fear of reprisal and deplatforming. These companies have broken their good faith with the citizens and are only interested in a singular voice. America was built on it’s freedoms and diversity. I trust in you to restore these freedoms to me.
Hydroxychloroquine is a drug that Trump has touted as a sort of miracle cure for the novel coronavirus. One study claiming to prove its efficacy was later the subject of scathing critique from the scientific community, and large-scale studies have generally found no evidence it is useful (the Food and Drug Administration now warns against its use). Where does this come in? Some conservatives believe sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Google are covering up evidence the drug really works to hurt Trump politically, including by suppressing conspiracy videos like Plandemic or “censoring” a pro-hydroxychloroquine video produced by “America’s Frontline Doctors,” a sham group including a Texas doctor who believes some diseases are caused by demon sperm.
Collette of Washington state:
Social medias have turned into a publisher, and is no longer a platform. I left Facebook, when they removed a post where I stated: “Nazi’s were socialists” which is a true and factual statement that they removed without cause. There was no way, that I could fight the removal.. So, I left, even though it was difficult as many people still do use it for planning events. Social medias control the narrative, and are trying to rewrite history. Look at how they have attacked “American Frontline Drs?” Practicing Medical Drs, who are showing what Hydroxychloroquine is a viable treatment for Covid19. ‘Social Medias,’ are practicing Medicine without a license, and are following a non-medical Dr, who is the director of the World Health Organization by the name of Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who is a biologist, over practicing Dr! You don’t see a problem with that?!
Ralph Fucetola, president of the “Institute for Health Research” and proponent of bringing “deep state” tech companies up on RICO charges, from an undisclosed location:
Screenshot: FCC/Electronic Comment Filing System
Silicon Valley is conspiring to protect comedian Jim Gaffigan
Missy from Maryland:
My twitter account #ConsumptionTax @████████████ gets suspended for things I have expressed. Twitter user @JimGaffigan calls Trump a thief and conman. I rebuttal using the same kind of words. I am told to delete the tweet due to causing physical harm. I’m suspended for 7 days. The twitter user is a celebrity His tweet is still up. This happens often.
Gizmodo did not feel the need to reach out to comedian Jim Gaffigan for comment, but we’ll update this piece if he foolishly feels the need to offer one.
Additional reporting by Dell Cameron.