FCC Commissioner Nathan Simington dismissed calls for the FCC to stop Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter, instead calling for regulators and the general public to welcome it as a win for freedom of speech online.
“Some have recently called on the FCC to stop Elon Musk from acquiring Twitter,” Simington said in a statement Monday. “But nothing in the United States Code or our regulations gives us the right to interfere with this transaction. Our competition review authority does not and has never extended to internet platforms like Twitter.”
Even if the deal was within the scope of the FCC’s authority, Simington continued, it would be “inappropriate and contrary to the public interest” to block it. Simington rejected concerns about potential concentration of the social media market, noting that Musk buying Twitter was not out of place in the ownership structures of the media industry, or even other social media platforms.
He pointed out several examples of this structure: The New York Times is operated by Chairman A.G. Sulzberger, who inherited the position from his father Arthur Sulzberger; The Washington Post is owned by Jeff Bezos’ holding company Nash Holdings; Google and its parent company Alphabet are run by CEO Sundar Pichai; Facebook and its parent company Meta are operated by Mark Zuckerberg, who is the founder, chairman, CEO, and controlling shareholder of both.
Simington also noted that vertical integration in online media companies is widespread, and there are multiple examples of individuals or companies owning or controlling both broadband internet providers as well as online services like search engines, streaming platforms, and news sites. Furthermore, Simington said that concerns about Elon Musk owning both Twitter and Starlink “could not be taken seriously,” since Starlink currently provides broadband internet to less than 1% of Americans.
Simington also rejected other calls for the federal government to stop Musk from “enshrining free expression on Twitter.” Previously, several Democratic members of Congress and left-wing commentators lamented Musk’s buyout of Twitter, and called for regulation to stop the flow of “disinformation” and “hate.”
“[I’m] concerned his personal views will stop the fight against disinformation on social media,” Democratic California Rep. Adam Schiff tweeted last week. “The problem on Twitter hasn’t been too much content moderation – it’s too much hate.”
“Elon Musk and a handful of billionaires now have dangerous influence over the most powerful online platforms,” Democratic Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey tweeted. “They can’t be trusted, and self-regulation has failed. We must pass laws to protect privacy and promote algorithmic justice for internet users, especially for kids.”
CNN media analyst David Zurawik issued similar calls in a rant on “Reliable Sources” Sunday. “[You] need controls on this,” Zurawik said. “You need regulation. You cannot let these guys control discourse in this country, or we are headed to hell!”
“The only merit in such proposals is their candor in proposing something so blatantly illegal,” Simington said in response to those calls. “The law in this country does not recognize a government interest in restricting the open exchange of ideas. Labeling content as “fake news” or “disinformation” does not change that. It would be not only unconstitutional, but plainly un-American, for any arm of the government to act against Twitter or Mr. Musk for such a purpose.”
Simington is the second FCC Commissioner to shoot down left-wing calls for the FCC to interfere in Musk’s purchase of Twitter. Fellow Commissioner Brendan Carr rejected the notion after left-wing advocacy group Open Markets Institute published a statement calling on the FCC, FTC, and DOJ to block the purchase. “The FCC has no authority to block Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter, and to suggest otherwise is absurd,” Carr said. “I would welcome the full FCC making it clear that we will not entertain these types of frivolous arguments.”