FCC chair says agency will take public comment on Trump social media petition

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump attends a meeting with leadership from the National Association of Police Organizations and speaks about protests and the situation in Portland, Oregon in a very dark Cabinet Room with all of the curtains drawn and closed at the White House in Washington, U.S., July 31, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Federal Communications Commission will take public comment for 45 days on a petition filed by the Trump administration seeking new transparency rules in how social media companies moderate content, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said on Monday.

Pai rejected calls from Democrats that he summarily dismiss the petition without public comment. The decision came after President Donald Trump directed the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to file the petition after Twitter Inc in May warned readers to fact-check his posts about unsubstantiated claims of fraud in mail-in voting.

Pai has said previously he does not see a role for the FCC to regulate websites like Twitter, Facebook Inc or Alphabet Inc’s Google, but said on Monday the FCC “should welcome vigorous debate - not foreclose it. The American people deserve to have a say, and we will give them that chance.”

FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks, a Democrat, wrote on Twitter that Congress, not the FCC, should act. “Perhaps when comments are in we can package up the whole docket and send it over to Congress-where this debate belongs,” Starks wrote.

The July 27 NTIA petition asks the FCC to limit protections for social media companies under Section 230, a provision of the 1996 Communications Decency Act that shields social media companies from liability for content posted by their users and allows them to remove lawful but objectionable posts.

The NTIA wants the FCC to require social media companies to “publicly disclose accurate information regarding its content-management mechanisms” to “enable users to make more informed choices about competitive alternatives.”

Trump, a Republican who is running for re-election on Nov. 3, has repeatedly expressed anger at social media companies.

The FCC could take a year or longer to finalize any rules.

Reporting by David Shepardson; editing by Jonathan Oatis