FCC Cleans Up Its Space

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“Will the FCC censor its own MySpace page?” asks Progress & Freedom Foundation bigwig Adam Thierer in a blog posting Friday.

The answer appears to be yes. Thierer pointed out that within a few milliseconds of announcing the creation of the page, the FCC had received the kind of comments that, if aired on Fox, it would have found indecent.

Thierer included a screen grab from the FCC’s MySpace page that included the following post: “If I type in “f— the FCC will you censor that too.” (And before posters point out that I have just expurgated the word myself, we have never argued that editors aren’t free to apply their own standards, just that the FCC should not be applying them for us.)

Anyway, Thierer points out that the page has drawn “profanity-laced rants that would make George Carlin blush,” as well as some conspiracy theories and other off-topic posts.

“Which begs the question: Will the FCC apply its Pacifica indecency standard to its own MySpace page?,” asks Thierer.

My check of the FCC site found none of the referred-to language. Insults, yes. A big photo of John Wayne. Check. But no swearing. Turns out that initial four-letter flurry got in just under the wire.

“We have moderation policies for blog and Ideascale comments,” said an FCC spokesman, “and are applying those principles to MySpace while we draft a moderation policy specific to that site.”

The Blogband moderation policy excludes “slurs; abusive or obscene language,” so profanity of the S- and F-word varieties could fall under that prohibition.

But a check of the moderation policy for Ideascale, a crowd-sourcing site the FCC is employing for comments on policies and proposals, revealed the following:

“Comments which include any of the following may be removed from the public site: Threats or incitements to violence; Obscenity; Duplicate posts; Posts revealing your own or others’ sensitive/personal information (e.g., Social Security numbers); Information posted in violation of law, including libel, condoning or encouraging illegal activity, revealing classified information, or comments which might affect the outcome of ongoing legal proceedings; Promotion of commercial services or products; Spam.”

Hmmm. That creates another potential problem. The only category a post simply containing the F-word would seem to fit in is “obscenity.” But, as First Amendment attorneys will tell you, obscenity in content control terms is a legal definition for speech that is totally unprotected.

If the FCC is suggesting cursing is obscene in the legal sense, then it is wholly unprotected and could be banished entirely from the online waves and from the airwaves, too, safe harbor be doggoned.

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