Fresh from his announcement of a plan to repeal net neutrality rules, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai is going on the offensive against tech companies that limit the online speech of conservatives. Pai singled out Twitter for blocking an ad campaign by a Republican senatorial candidate.
While net neutrality rules focus internet service providers, Pai argues that it is the “edge providers,” companies like Google, Facebook, and Twitter that provide content directly to users, that “are a much bigger actual threat to an open Internet than broadband providers, especially when it comes to discrimination on the basis of viewpoint” per CNN.
“When it comes to a free and open internet, Twitter is part of the problem,” Pai said.
In October, Twitter blocked an ad campaign by Marsha Blackburn, a Republican campaigning for the seat of the retiring Bob Corker (R-Tenn.). Twitter said that a video containing the line, “I fought Planned Parenthood and we stopped the sale of baby body parts,” violated its advertising standards. Politico reports that Twitter did not remove the video, but did not allow the Blackburn campaign to pay to promote it.
“Anyone voluntarily following her account could see it, as is their choice as a consumer when they choose to follow her,” a Twitter spokesman told CNN. “Because advertisements are served to users who do not necessarily follow an account, we therefore have higher standards for their content.”
Earlier this month, Twitter also announced that it would remove the verification badges from accounts that violate company guidelines. The company revoked verification from some alt-right and white supremacist accounts such as Richard Spencer and Jason Kessler. Tim Gionet, another alt-right tweeter who used the handle “Baked Alaska,” was banned permanently.
Pai also criticized celebrities Cher, George Takei, Mark Ruffalo, and Alyssa Milano by name for what he called “absurd” statements about the repeal of net neutrality. Pai read a tweet by Ruffalo that claimed, “Taking away #NetNeutrality is the Authoritarian dream.”
“These comments are absurd,” Pai said. “Getting rid of government authority over the Internet is the exact opposite of authoritarianism.”
Several companies have been fined for violating net neutrality since the FCC adopted the standard in 2005. These cases stem from companies blocking access to competing products rather than censoring opposing viewpoints. Earlier this year, AT&T was accused of restricting access to Facetime, an Apple video calling app, for users who had not purchased AT&T shared data plans.
The FCC board members will vote on the repeal of net neutrality at their meeting on Dec. 14.