Michael Hiltzik: The bogus, homophobic campaign against Biden's stellar FCC nominee

Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

No one should be surprised that telecommunications companies revved up opposition to the 2021 nomination of Gigi Sohn to the Federal Communications Commission. After all, Sohn was known as an effective critic of the industry's monopoly power and a defender of the public interest.

Nor was it surprising that the industry would attack Sohn with lies — after all, that's what corporate lobbyists do for a living. So far, the industry has succeeded in tying up Sohn's nomination for nearly two years. Thanks to Senate procedures, President Biden has had to submit her name three times, most recently in January, and she has received two hearings.

The hold-up has prevented the FCC from addressing crucial issues because it's locked in a 2-2 Democratic-Republican tie (with two Trump appointees); Sohn would give the body a 3-2 Democratic majority, enough to undo some of the anti-consumer steps undertaken under Trump's chairman, Ajit Pai.

But in the last couple of weeks, the attack on Sohn, 61, who would be the first LGBTQ member of the FCC, has taken a grotesquely ugly turn. An obviously coordinated campaign fronted by such right-wing enterprises as Fox News, Breitbart and the Daily Mail has painted Sohn as a supporter of sex trafficking and an opponent of anti-sex trafficking initiatives.

The core of this loathsome assault is that Sohn serves on the board of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The EFF is a prominent nonprofit devoted to protecting user privacy and freedom of expression online.

Sohn joined the EFF board, which includes leading academics from UC Berkeley and Harvard, digital entrepreneurs such as Brewster Kahle, and experts in digital security and telecommunications law, in 2018.


Sohn's association with EFF is what has put her in the crosshairs of the far right. Among the EFF's targets, you see, is a pair of laws known as FOSTA/SESTA, which were enacted in 2018 during a Congressional panic over online child sex trafficking.

FOSTA/SESTA — the acronyms stand for the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act and the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act — have proven to be largely ineffective for their stated purpose and rife with adverse side effects. More on that in a moment.

In their attacks, all published on Jan. 26 and 27, Fox, Breitbart and the Mail used almost identical headlines stating that Sohn "sits on [the] board" of EFF. All tried to link her with Danielle Blunt, a professional dominatrix who has been in the forefront of organized opposition to FOSTA/SESTA and support for the rights of sex workers, and who received an award from EFF in 2020 for her efforts to fight online censorship.

What's important here is that Sohn has never spoken about FOSTA/SESTA, and in any event, the FCC has absolutely nothing to do with the laws or their purpose. The commission doesn't regulate online advertising, and FOSTA/SESTA doesn't apply to telecommunications.


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