In another attempt to leave the mark of the Trump administration behind long after President-elect Joe Biden assumes office, the Senate today voted 49-46 along party lines to appoint Nathan Simington, who has no experience in telecom or consumer protection, to the Federal Communications Commission, Vice reports.
The confirmation comes on the heels of Trump-appointed FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s announcement that he will be leaving the agency on Jan. 20, the day before Biden is sworn in and his administration moves into the White House. Pai’s tenure is most infamous for killing efforts to protect net neutrality, lying about cyberattacks targeting the FCC, and exaggerating how many Americans have access to high-speed internet.
Last week, the Senate Commerce Committee voted 14-12 along party lines to nominate Simington after Republican FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly’s re-nomination was pulled in August. It’s still unclear as to why O’Rielly’s nomination was pulled, but it might have something to do with his criticism of Trump’s request to have the FCC interpret Section 230, which protects online platforms, particularly social media platforms, from being held legally liable for anything any of its users might publish on it. Only the user should be held accountable for what they say, not the entire platform.
Changing or repealing Section 230 altogether would have serious implications on Americans’ First Amendment right to free speech.
“Without Section 230, any online service that did continue to exist would more than likely opt for censoring more content—and that would inevitably harm marginalized groups more than others,” the Electronic Frontier Foundation said.
Trump has repeatedly claimed that getting rid of Section 230 protections will stop social media platforms from “censoring” conservatives on social media, a claim that has been disproven. Facebook, for instance, didn’t follow its own policies to stop the spread of misinformation on its own platform for years to avoid accusations of anti-conservative bias. Twitter waited until May 2020 to slap its first fact-check label on one of Trump’s tweets.
Recently, Trump threatened to veto nearly $1 trillion in military spending if Section 230 was not completely terminated. Getting rid of Section 230 will most likely result in companies censoring more user content, not less, however.
Simington supports Trump’s goals regarding Section 230, and he could also be the linchpin that will make progress on net neutrality impossible. Democrats are worried that internet policy will be gridlocked for the next five years because of Simington’s confirmation.
Simington is currently a senior adviser in the U.S. Department of Commerce, where he as served only since June 2020, according to his LinkedIn profile. Prior to that, he worked at various law firms focusing on finance, specifically asset finance, securitization practice, and large-scale finance programs for credit card issuers. This is definitely not someone who has the necessary prerequisites to take on such a big position at the FCC—and someone who seems more suited to protecting the interests of large ISPs rather than consumers.