With help from John Hendel and Theodoric Meyer
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— (Another) bill targeting 230: The tech industry has quickly come out against a bill introduced Tuesday by Senate Republicans that would narrow platforms’ legal protections when they take down user-posted material.
— Zuck talks election security: In a wide ranging interview Tuesday night, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told Axios that the social network’s plan to ban new political ads just ahead of Election Day could bump up against free expression.
— On tap at the FCC: Chair Ajit Pai is planning votes at the agency’s September meeting on proposals freeing 5G-friendly airwaves for commercial wireless use.
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INDUSTRY BITES BACK AT NEW GOP BILL TARGETING SECTION 230, TECH BIAS — The tech sector has swiftly come out against Senate Republicans’ bill introduced Tuesday afternoon that would narrow online platforms’ legal protections when they take down user-posted content. Industry groups were quick to suggest that the proposal from Senate Commerce Chairman Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) would violate the First Amendment while hindering efforts to secure elections and fight medical misinformation — fears that hit home during the tumultuous 2020 presidential race and a global pandemic. (Wicker said the bill is aimed at addressing alleged anti-GOP bias in tech; there are notably no Democratic co-sponsors on the bill.)
— “This bill would thwart social media’s ability to remove Russian or Chinese election interference campaigns, misinformation about COVID-19, and cyberbullying from their services,” said Carl Szabo, vice president and general counsel at NetChoice, which counts Facebook, Google, Twitter and TikTok as members. “Furthermore, the bill would prevent online services from removing the very content Congress demands they remove – notably medical misinformation and efforts to undermine our elections,” Szabo said. Elizabeth Banker, deputy general counsel for the Internet Association, added that the trade group has “serious First Amendment concerns with this bill.”
ZUCK SPEAKS OUT ON ELECTION SECURITY — Facebook’s plan to ban new political and issue ads during the week before Election Day — an effort to protect the democratic process by thwarting misinformation around voting and election results — could well be at odds with free expression, Zuckerberg told Axios in an interview on Tuesday night. “My general philosophy on this is usually that the best antidote to bad speech is more speech — I’m a big believer in free expression,” Zuck said. But he explained the ban by saying that “in the last stretch before the election, if someone just drops a whole lot of misinformation, there may just not be time for the normal free expression and exchange of ideas.”
— Other highlights: Zuck warned that civil unrest is a real possibility between voting and consensus on the results. Pressed on whether Facebook will itself be responsible for some of that tumult, the CEO said “we’re trying to make sure that we do our part to make sure that none of this is organized on Facebook… but the country is very charged right now so I think regardless of what we do, there’s some chance that this happens.” Zuck also vehemently rejected interviewer Mike Allen’s assertion that Facebook is “a right-wing echo chamber.”
FACEBOOK RESIGNATION RIPPLES ACROSS TECH, CIVIL RIGHTS WORLD — The public resignation of a Facebook engineer over what he described as “Facebook’s willingness to profit off of hate” has given fresh fuel to civil rights leaders behind the recent Facebook advertising boycott. Rounding out a summer rife with workforce backlash over the platform’s handling of hateful content, Ashok Chandwaney on Tuesday followed other employees who have quit, stating in a letter shared with The Washington Post that “Facebook is choosing to be on the wrong side of history.”
— “Given the lack of willingness, commitment, urgency and transparency around actioning the civil rights audit’s recommendations to the best of our ability, I am left wondering if the audit was intended to be a PR deflection strategy,” Chandwaney wrote. He added that business decisions are prioritized at Facebook over decisions anchored in social good — ”for instance, removing the sitting president’s incitement to violence, which could lead to regulatory action.” He also blasted the company’s recent handling of the Kenosha Guard militia page on Facebook, where users discussed killing protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in the wake of the police shooting of Jacob Blake. (Two people were fatally shot at those protests; Facebook said there was no link between the Kenosha Guard page and the protest shooter.)
— Color of Change President Rashad Robinson, a leader of the Facebook ad boycott, applauded the engineer’s resignation on Tuesday. “It’s a shame Facebook employees feel the need to turn to civil rights organizations to protect communities of color, rather than their own employer,” Robinson said in a statement. “While it should not be on employees nor civil rights organizations to make Facebook a safe platform, our voices matter. … We will continue to demand Facebook stop fueling hate groups, fire leaders like [Joel] Kaplan who have aligned with forces defending white nationalists, and immediately enact systemic change.”
FCC TO VOTE THIS MONTH ON 5G AIRWAVES, ‘TEAM TELECOM’ REFORM — Federal Communications Commission chief Ajit Pai is planning votes at the Sept. 30 commission meeting on what he dubbed “a pair of workhorse spectrum items,” per his preview blog post: one draft proposal that would prepare for next year freeing the 5G-friendly mid-band airwaves of 3.45–3.55 GHz for commercial use, as the White House and Pentagon announced last month; and a plan to revamp the way licensing works in 4.9 GHz, an underused public safety band.
— Watch for draft proposal texts to be released today.
— Other votes of note: Another planned vote follows up on Trump’s recent executive order seeking to codify and speed up the administration’s interagency review process known as Team Telecom, which vets license applications for national security risks. Pai is set to join USTelecom to talk robocalls this afternoon, where he’s likely to address another Sept. 30 vote on the agency’s requirement that phone companies adopt call authentication tech.
— And on the horizon: In coming months, keep an eye out for potential FCC votes aimed at boosting Wi-Fi use involving the 5.9 and 6 GHz bands. And Pai recently told Congress that he has instructed staff to move quickly to allow the agency to “finalize new rules” this year for devices to operate in the so-called TV white spaces between broadcast channels (a longtime source of interest for tech companies like Microsoft).
LOBBYING LATEST, VIA POLITICO INFLUENCE — Tencent, the Chinese company behind WeChat, an app ubiquitous in China, has added another Washington lobbying firm in the wake of President Trump’s executive order last month cracking down on WeChat and TikTok. Former Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), who until last year served as the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s chairman, and five other Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck lobbyists started representing Tencent last month, according to a disclosure filing. Tencent also hired Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison and Toby Myerson, a former Paul, Weiss partner, last month.
TECH INDUSTRY FINDS A WAY TO MAKE A FLY-IN HAPPEN MID-PANDEMIC — Apple, Google, eBay and DoorDash are among the tech companies participating virtually in “TechNet Day,” the group’s annual fly-in where CEOs and senior executives meet with congressional offices and members of the administration to discuss pressing policy issues. This year’s event, which kicks off today and continues through Friday, is slated to focus on the tech world’s response to the pandemic. Among the participating offices are those of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, antitrust champion Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Silicon Valley congressman Rep. Ro Khanna.
Mike Litt is taking a leave of absence from U.S. PIRG to join the Biden-Harris campaign, where he’ll work with coalitions on voter contact; he plans to return after the election. … Rhonda Foxx, who previously ran for an open House seat in North Carolina and before that served as chief of staff to Rep. Alma Adams (D-N.C.), was hired by Intel as head of social equity policy and engagement.
Apple, Epic antitrust showdown continues: “Apple hit back at Fortnite-creator Epic Games Tuesday, rejecting claims that it uses its app store to quash competition and suing the game maker for breach of contract for giving users a lower price elsewhere,” Leah reports.
Tech and the Khashoggi killing: Hundreds of Arabic Twitter accounts discredited and threatened the dissident Saudi journalist before his disappearance, The Washington Post reports, “including the use of a ‘troll farm’ in Riyadh where a small army of government workers used phony Twitter accounts to post messages skewering Khashoggi’s essays and slamming his character.”
‘The 5G lie’: The Washington Post tested 5G phones against 4G phones. What they found was that 5G products were not much faster — and in some cases, were slower — than those on 4G.
Check it out: The Internet Society launched a digital tool to educate policymakers on internet regulation and help them assess how proposed regulations might affect the architecture of the internet.
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