A “string of civil lawsuits intended to pin liability on online platforms for allegedly providing material support to terrorists” has mostly fared poorly in court, with Section 230 providing a bulwark against liability in most cases, “but some of these cases are on appeal and plaintiffs have filed several new ones. If these suits are successful, they could be detrimental for the Internet: platforms would have little choice to become much more restrictive in what sorts of speech they allow.” In particular, “if online platforms no longer have Section 230 immunity for hosting content even remotely related to terrorism, those forums and services will take aggressive action to screen their users, review and censor content, and potentially prohibit anonymous speech.” [Aaron Mackey, Electronic Frontier Foundation; examples here (Facebook), here (Twitter), here, here (San Bernardino: Facebook, Google, Twitter), here (attacks in Paris and Brussels, Twitter), here (Orlando), here (Facebook), here (Twitter), etc. ]
Last year following the Russian Facebook scandal the Maryland legislature passed a bill regulating newspapers (!) and other online ad platforms. Gov. Larry Hogan refused to sign it, citing First Amendment concerns. Now a federal court has agreed and blocked the law’s enforcement as an unconstitutional infringement on the freedom of the press.
I write about the case at Cato. “Social media trickery is bad. Chipping away at First Amendment liberties to stop it is worse.”
- So often those who seek to control the rest of us seem unable to achieve self-control. Case in point: sponsor of NY bill to search gun applicants’ social media accounts [Jon Campbell, Democrat and Chronicle, Sen. Rob Ortt on Twitter] More on Sen. Kevin Parker’s proposal: Scott Greenfield, and my earlier;
- Concerning an issue that Cato has warned about for many, many years, the emergency powers of the President [Elizabeth Goitein/The Atlantic, related video]
- Web accessibility suits hit colleges [Rick Karlin, Albany Times-Union], New York wineries [Brianne Garrett, Wine Spectator, Kathleen Willcox, Wine Searcher, Thomas Pellechia, Forbes], other defendants around New York [Stephen Rex Brown, New York Daily News, Jamie Herzlich/Newsday]
- “How the Feds Spy on Reporters” [Cato Daily Podcast with Julian Sanchez and Caleb Brown]
- Thread on what government subsidies have done to Canadian literature. Reason to resist letting subsidies be pushed further into US literary arts sector, let alone print news as some would like [Jonathan Kay Twitter thread]
- A likely story: “Scottish Grandpa Claims He Checked ‘Terrorist’ Box on Visa Form by Mistake” [Kevin Underhill, Lowering the Bar]
“Big internet platforms for speech are privately owned, but those who would pressure private firms to restrict speech are often the same people who would substantially restrict the rights of people to speak. John Samples and Emily Ekins discuss how Americans think about free speech today and ways to defend it in the modern age.” [Cato Daily Podcast with Caleb Brown]
More: John Samples on Facebook moderation policies; Matthew Feeney, “Keep Government Away From Twitter.” And if Congress abrogates the liability protections of Section 230, as some conservatives urge, one predictable consequence will be that more conservatives will wind up getting purged from social media [Elizabeth Nolan Brown]
I write at Cato about this appalling proposal. “The only way to make this proposal better – by which I mean worse – would be to arrange for New York to quarter troops on the homes of applicants with especially bad social media postings. That way the sponsors could achieve a straight flush of Bill of Rights violations.”
[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.
“It was quite something to hear Republicans sounding like Elizabeth Warren on a trust-busting bender, but it is difficult to take seriously the proposition that what’s at work here is concern about monopoly power, Supreme Court precedents, or anything of the sort: This is about friends and enemies, and Republicans have decided that Silicon Valley is the enemy.” [Kevin Williamson, National Review] “Trump allies propose nationalizing Facebook, Google data” [Jason Tashea, ABA Journal] And see John Hinderaker, PowerLine, on a tape showing Google employees disappointed by the results of the last election (“Break them up under the Sherman Act? Turn them into regulated public utilities, with public employee-level salaries and no stock options? Those are all possibilities.”) Related: Thomas Hazlett, “Making the Fairness Doctrine Great Again,” Reason, March.
- 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]
- 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]
- 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]