Posts Tagged ‘free speech’

Government oversight of social media moderation would infringe First Amendment liberties

Mike Masnick, TechDirt:

[J]ust after Twitter and Facebook appeared before Congress, the DOJ released a statement saying that it was investigating whether or not actions by the big internet companies was “intentionally stifling the free exchange of ideas.” The full statement was short and to the point:

We listened to today’s Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on Foreign Influence Operations’ Use of Social Media Platforms closely. The Attorney General has convened a meeting with a number of state attorneys general this month to discuss a growing concern that these companies may be hurting competition and intentionally stifling the free exchange of ideas on their platforms.

The competition question is one that the DOJ’s antitrust division clearly has authority over, but alarms should be raised about the DOJ or state AGs arguing that these platforms are “stifling the free exchange of ideas on their platforms.” Because while — on its face — that might sound like it’s supporting free speech, it’s actually an almost certain First Amendment violation by the DOJ and whatever state AGs are involved.

There are lots and lots of cases on the books about this, but government entities aren’t supposed to be in the business of telling private businesses what content they can or cannot host. Cases such as Near v. Minnesota and Bantam Books v. Sullivan have long made it clear that governments can’t be in the business of regulating the speech of private organizations — though those are both about regulations to suppress speech.

More: “How Regulating Platforms’ Content Moderation Means Regulating Speech – Even Yours” [Cathy Gellis]; John Samples, Cato Daily Podcast on Trump’s comments about Google searches; Federalist Society debate on social media antitrust; “if you’re going to make an allegation that there’s a big [anti-conservative] conspiracy [on search engine results], you should do your due diligence.” [Zachary Graves] Earlier here, etc.

“Right to be forgotten” making its way into American courts?

New Jersey court orders Google to take down newsworthy photo Chicago Tribune had run of plaintiff [Eugene Volokh; note that plaintiff subsequently voluntarily dropped the case] And courts can’t order private media outlets to expunge truthful coverage of charges against someone, can they? [Volokh on Houston judge’s order against website of broadcaster KTRK]

Free speech roundup

  • Senators have big plans for government regulation of social media but U.S. Constitution keeps getting in way [John Samples, Cato; David McCabe, Axios, earlier] “Censorship breeds censorship envy, and that’s true of private suppression by massively influential platforms such as Facebook as well as of governmental censorship.” [John Samples, Eugene Volokh]
  • Is it lawful for a state lawmaker to block someone on Twitter who’s publicly discussed ways of murdering him? [Dorit Reiss, PrawfsBlawg, earlier]
  • European Parliament delays adopting online copyright directive that critics said would result in Internet content filtering and royalties for linking [Thomas McMullan/Alphr, BBC earlier]
  • Is the ACLU OK with French catcalling law? [Robby Soave] With using government to keep the wrong sorts of people from owning radio outlets? [Scott Shackford, related]
  • Federalist Society telecast on Ninth Circuit decision on Idaho “ag-gag” law with UCLA lawprof Eugene Volokh and Andrew Varcoe of Boyden Gray & Associates;
  • “Arrests for offensive Facebook and Twitter posts soar in London” [Sadie Levy Gale, Independent] Downhill in Denmark: “How the Right Abandoned Free Speech in Europe” [Cato podcast and Reason interview with Jacob Mchangama]

University of Minnesota’s pronoun prescription

Not using someone’s preferred pronoun — “whether it’s he, she, ‘ze’ or something else” — could become a disciplinary offense, escalating up to firing and expulsion, at the University of Minnesota under a proposed policy [Maura Lerner, Minneapolis Star-Tribune] I’m quoted as saying that although protecting transgender members of its community from purposeful insult or breach of privacy is a legitimate purpose, the university is likely to fare poorly in court if it presumes to punish community members for not using new-coined gender pronouns on demand [Sarah George, The College Fix]:

“As a public institution with an educational mission to uphold, Minnesota can appropriately make some demands of its members, such as respecting norms of collegiality, refraining from insult, observing consistent standards in filling out paperwork, and so forth,” Olson told The Fix via email.

“But this does not constitute a blank check to police and punish language use generally, especially not in politically charged areas of speech, and most especially when the policy departs from viewpoint neutrality to side with some controversial views over others.”…

“Before presuming to force university members to mouth or endorse politically controversial language as a condition of keeping their jobs or remaining enrolled, the university must show that such coerced expression is essential to its functioning as an educational institution. It has not, and I suspect cannot, made such a showing,” he said.

Earlier on pronoun prescription: Canada, New York City, Oregon, more.

Free speech roundup

  • Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) proposes to regulate social media bots, or to put it differently, to regulate a form of speech carried on through automated mechanisms [John Samples, Cato]
  • “The State of New Jersey Wants to Subsidize News. Uh-oh.” [Jack Shafer, Politico] Canada, farther down this road, moves toward outright government subsidies to newspapers [Mylene Crete and Jordan Press, Canadian Press]
  • “Court tosses disbarred lawyer’s suit over newspaper article on his ethics case with a ‘crime’ header” [ABA Journal]
  • Compelled speech in NIFLA v. Becerra: “A First Amendment Win in a Case That Was NOT about Abortion” [Ilya Shapiro and Meggan DeWitt, Eugene Volokh, Erica Goldberg] More: DeWitt Cato podcast;
  • New Nadine Strossen book on hate speech challenges some conventionally accepted ideas about its effects [John Samples, earlier] Man in Pennsylvania charged with felony ethnic intimidation after calling officers who were arresting him Nazis, skinheads, and Gestapo [Joshua Vaughn, The Appeal]
  • Will lawyers face punishment for using wrong-gender pronouns in social or bar-association activities? Lambda Legal suggests the answer is yes [Eugene Volokh]

Free speech roundup

  • Is ACLU changing its tune on free speech for the worse? [Wendy Kaminer, David Cole, Ira Glasser, Nadine Strossen] Symposium on Louis Michael Seidman essay, “Can Free Speech Be Progressive?” [First Amendment Watch, essay excerpt]
  • Series of posts and law review article by Eugene Volokh on how Founding-era public understanding of freedom of the press encompassed a much wider swath of activity than just commercial or professional press enterprise [Volokh Conspiracy]
  • “Perhaps it would be easier if [Councilman Justin] Brannan just issued a list of who is allowed to speak in his community.” [Karol Markowicz on Brooklyn pol who’s bragged of pressuring venues to cancel GOP and NRA events]
  • “Free Speech in International Perspective” symposium this month at Cato Unbound includes Jacob Mchangama, Anthony Leaker, Jeremy Waldron, Jonathan Rauch;
  • “An opinion, however moronic or unfair, is absolutely protected [absent special circumstances not present here]…. Though I celebrate an apology for wrongdoing, I can’t celebrate a surrender at swordpoint that encourages censorious litigation.” [Ken at Popehat on $3.375 million Southern Poverty Law Center settlement with Maajid Nawaz]
  • Why veteran gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell changed his mind on Northern Ireland cake controversy [The Sun, BBC]

Free speech roundup

  • Video now online of Nadine Strossen at Cato speaking on her new book Hate: Why We Should Resist It with Free Speech, Not Censorship. And John Samples kicks off series of blog posts about book [first, second]
  • Press vs. President: “the more tightly regulated media landscape of the early 1970s” played directly into Nixon’s hands [Matt Welch]
  • Romance writer’s bid to stop authors from using word ‘cocky’ fails in court [Alison Flood/Guardian, earlier]
  • “New law forces Google to suspend political ads in Washington state” [Timothy Lee, ArsTechnica]
  • “The Minnesota criminal harassment statute is equally dubious, applying when a person sends two or more tweets ‘with the intent to abuse, disturb, or cause distress.’ Really…?” [Venkat Balasubramani, Technology and Marketing Law Blog] “Crime in D.C. to Negligently Cause ‘Significant Mental Suffering’ by Saying Two Non-Political Things About Someone” [Eugene Volokh] “NY State Legislators Unanimously Pass A Cyberbullying Bill That Can’t Be Bothered To Define Cyberbullying” [Tim Cushing, TechDirt; Eric Turkowitz]
  • Blame failings of copyright law, not scholarly neglect, for long inattention to Zora Neale Hurston manuscript [Ted Genoways, Washington Post/Valley News]

Free speech roundup

  • Who could have guessed? First person charged with violating Malaysia’s new “fake news” law is someone who criticized the police [Reuters/Guardian (“The law covers digital publications and social media and also applies to offenders outside Malaysia, including foreigners, if Malaysia or a Malaysian citizen are affected.”)]
  • Or that prosecutors in Spain would be considering hate speech charges against the new separatist premier of Catalonia? [José Antonio Hernández, El País]
  • “There is no requirement that a platform remain neutral in order to maintain Section 230 immunity. And Facebook does not have to choose between the protections of Section 230 and those of the First Amendment; it can have both.” [Catherine Padhi, LawFare on comments by Sen. Ted Cruz]
  • “Reporting on Lawsuit — but Not Mentioning It Was Settled — Is Not Libelous” [Eugene Volokh on New Jersey Supreme Court decision in Petro-Lubricant Testing Laboratories, Inc. v. Adelman]
  • Wisconsin appeals court allows suit against online gun-ad marketplace over shooting; resulting damage to Section 230 would menace social media sites whether or not gun-related [Eric Goldman, Eugene Volokh]
  • “Appeals Court Finally Shuts Down Bogus Lawsuit Targeting A School Official For Words A Journalist Wrote” [Tim Cushing, TechDirt, earlier]

First Amendment roundup

  • Dangerous and misguided: Michigan pursues prosecution on charges of jury tampering of man who handed out “jury nullification” pamphlets on public sidewalk outside courthouse [Jay Schweikert, Cato; Jacob Sullum, earlier here, here, etc.]
  • “‘Worst of Both Worlds’ FOSTA Signed Into Law, Completing Section 230’s Evisceration” [Eric Goldman] Among first casualties: Craigslist personals [Merrit Kennedy/NPR, Elizabeth Nolan Brown] And Elizabeth Nolan Brown joins (no relation) Caleb Brown on a Cato Daily Podcast;
  • Is reprinting thumbnail headshots fair use? [Mike Masnick, TechDirt]
  • “16 Pulse survivors sue Google, Facebook, Twitter for ‘supporting’ ISIS” [Daniel Dahm, WKMG Orlando]
  • Not the group it used to be: ACLU calls for government-owned broadband, claims First Amendment may require as opposed to forbid state-operated communications infrastructure [Randolph May and Theodore Bolema, Free State Foundation] More: Scott Greenfield;
  • Cato amicus commercial speech triple-header: Virginia’s ban on promoting happy hours (bars may hold them, but not promote them off premises) is an irrational leftover of Prohibition [Ilya Shapiro] While some commercial speech can be mandated, Ninth Circuit goes too far in upholding government-ordered scripts [Shapiro and Meggan Dewitt on structured-mortgage-payment case Nationwide Biweekly Administration v. Hubanks] Sign laws face tough scrutiny under 2015’s Reed v. Town of Gilbert, and Tennessee’s billboard law, which applies even to noncommercial speech, may run into trouble [Shapiro and Aaron Barnes]

Free speech roundup

  • “Lucha Underground Wrestling Sends Legal Threat To Journalists For Publishing ‘Spoilers'” [Tim Geigner, TechDirt]
  • Watch what you say about lawyers: politically active Baton Rouge trial lawyer threatens political blog The Hayride over critical coverage [The Hayride, Robert Davis/Louisiana Record]
  • Update: Stanford’s Mark Jacobson drops defamation lawsuit against other scientists [Jonathan Adler, earlier]
  • Update: federal judge tells town of Sibley, Iowa to stop threatening resident who runs website complaining about way town smells [ACLU of Iowa, earlier]
  • Recent topics in FIRE “So To Speak” podcast series include Great Firewall of China, interview with former Evergreen State professor Bret Weinstein, Masterpiece Cakeshop case at SCOTUS, Is there a campus free speech crisis?
  • “Spanish Hate/Anti-Terrorism Speech Laws Doing Little But Locking Up Comedians, Artists, And Dissidents” [Tim Cushing, TechDirt; a recent Scottish case]