Freedom of speech with respect to social media outlets

Recently, several media outlets decided, together, to ban Infowars on their sites. There was a thread about this in fact. I heard some from several of my (actual) conservative friends and relatives this past weekend so I thought it might be an interesting discussion. Basically, the claim is that social media sites shouldn’t be able to censor broad based political (or I guess conspiracy) viewpoints, that it’s a slippery slope to allow them to do so. I’m not seeing it, to be honest…the 1st Amendment doesn’t seem to come into this question, since it’s not the government (the US Government that is) who is censoring speech. This lead to a bit of a tangent in the conversation saying that one of the big reasons this is happening is that the EU has threatened (or has enacted…I honestly didn’t look it up) measures to fine social media outlets up to 500k Euros per ‘fake news’ incident released. So, in a way, this IS a form of governmental censorship I suppose.

What I’d like to do is to put the discussion into a broader context. Obviously, Infowars is not going to be a very sympathetic victim around here. But if we look generically at this, should these companies be able to ban things as they will? What sorts of checks and balances are on them, outside of simple market forces? Should there BE any other checks on them besides market forces? Should we, as a society allow corporations to control the message based on those market forces, and if so, where will that end? I guess wrt the tangent, what about other governments using coercion to force companies to comply with them? Sure, the EU is usually considered a good actor, but China uses similar tactics to try and force media companies to comply with their censorship and even to give them data about the users of their systems and their data. To me, that IS a slippery slope, though not sure what can be done about it outside of market forces…assuming the users of those media outlets even know that this is going on.

Anyway, thoughts? I don’t want this to be just about Inforwars…I want this to be a more generic discussion of the broader implications. Especially since I really dislike Alex Jones myself and find it very easy to say, yeah, ban his ass. But I almost think that I’m wrong about that in the broader context and shouldn’t allow my personal animus and feelings to get in the way of something that might be a mistake to just go along with. The whole ‘first they came for the Jews and I did nothing…’ thing…

If the market share of those companies becomes large enough and they are abusing that market share then it might be time to split those companies up.

But, we live in a country where a powerless baker is sanctioned by the state for refusing to provide custom content. Maybe the state could start fining these tech companies proportional to their market power?

Simply put, there is none. Start your own social media outlet if you feel underappreciated.

Start your own bakery wouldn’t have been met with such dismissiveness now would it?

But what exactly can be done? These social media companies will likely bend to major governments (like the EU or China) if they feel financial pressure. And one can argue that if the US mandates they don’t ban these viewpoints you run into issues where you are putting these companies between a rock and a hard place AND may then run into Constitutional issues regarding freedom of association (unless you make political beliefs a protected class, which would open up an entirely different can of worms).

Well, if you start your own social media outlet as a business and refuse to deal with gay customers (or black customers, or female customers) just because they are gay/black/female, then the analogy might be relevant.

Since that’s not the issue, your analogy is useless.

It is a First Amendment issue, and exactly the same principles apply to Facebook as to Masterpiece Cakes. Both get to decide what messages they’ll allow on their platform, and for the government to take away that decision would be an infringement of free speech. Neither is allowed to discriminate against protected classes, for reasons that arise from other parts of the Constitution.

Maybe there’s an underlying question that maybe Americans are reluctant as a group to contemplate. Namely, should social media be declared public utilities, and their activities start to be regulated on that basis rather than the way they are now. (The whole shebang, Facebook broken up like Ma Bell, etc etc)

My recollection of that cake thing is that the people who were arguing for the ‘bigotry is great’ side were relying on the argument that the cakes held different messages only because gay people were using them, and not because of the physical structure of the actual cakes themselves. This requires a tortured definition/application of the term ‘speech’, and makes the whole argument really hard to sell to people not pre-inclined to buy into that sort of bullshit.

The social media situation doesn’t require such a tortured approach - the racists are quite literally putting content on the site’s pages themselves, requiring the site to hold the actual words in question on their servers and pass them along to others. The issue is the attributes of the content, not the attributes of the customer, except in that the customers have the attribute of having broken site rules.

I do not consider the situations analogous.

First, I don’t know why conservatives want to associate with crazy pants Jones at all. He’s not conservative, he’s a conspiracy nutter. I mean, seriously, why are they embracing him? It’s so weird.

Second, since he traffics in lies and hate, I don’t buy any sort of slippery slope argument. This guy is causing parents whose kids were murdered to be harassed. I mean, jeez, banning this guy doesn’t imply any sort of slippery slope.

Finally, to address the OP, since it’s a piece of cake (ha!) to set up a website and serve up content, I don’t see what the issue is at all. Maybe he can get Fox News to give him a section, or conservapedia, or one of the many, many conspiracy sites. The internet is so big and open that there are many, many outlets anyone can use. If he starts telling he people to start following his myspace page, I’m sure they’d go for it.

I agree with Chronos’s post #7.

But in the interests of advancing a different view, consider the case arising in California: Pruneyard Shopping Mall v. Robins. In Pruneyard, the US Supreme Court reaffirmed that state constitutions could allow broader First Amendment protections than the federal constitution does. They thus rejected the arguments offered by the mall’s owners, who had refused to let high school students distribute distribute pamphlets and collect petition signatures against Zionism.

The students had won a victory at the California Supreme Court, which had decided that although federal First Amendment law indeed permitted the mall owners to forbid this activity, the California STATE constitution’s protection were more robust, and that soliciting at a shopping mall for signatures for a petition to the government is an activity protected by the California Constitution.

The mall owners asked the US Supreme Court to find that either the federal Constitution overrode the California constitution is this regard, or, if not, that the state’s action amounted to a “taking,” under the federal constitution – basically, that if the state makes laws that take away private property rights, the property owner must be compensated.

The Supreme Court of the United States declined both invitations.

So I offer this thought: should Twitter / Facebook / etc be subject to a California-mall- type statute that forces them to extend First Amendment protections, under the same general “good public policy” reasoning that the Pruneyard decision rests upon in California?

This seems strange to me. I’m not a lawyer, so I ask you if you could possibly explain in laymen’s terms how they came up with this result? What is it about the California Constitution that forces a private business to allow petitioners to gather signatures there?

Let’s assume it does, for a moment. Does that mean that Facebook must allow any speech* on their platforms? Or, only protected classes? I assume the California kids were using a freedom of religion argument.

It seems like a big step to say that any social network must allow all types of speech, even speech it finds repellent. That does seem like an illegal taking if Facebook were forced to host hate speech, racist speech, Nazis, and so on.

Would a newspaper have to run any op-ed or any advertisement? Seems unlikely.

*not including obscene speech, incitement to riot, or other already banned speech

Broken up into what exactly?

Freedom of Speech does not mean that anyone owes you a forum, not even the government. What it means that the US government cannot stop a forum from giving you space if it wants to, BUT it cannot force the forum to do so if it doesn’t want to. Those are two entirely different things, and there’s no slippery slope between them.

Let’s say the forum is the editorial page of The Washington Post. The US government cannot tell the Post whose letters it can, or cannot print on the editorial page. The gov’t cannot say that a letter is inflammatory, and should not be printed. It cannot ask how much house her husooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppp

Sorry about that. Cat stepped on the keyboard, and hit submit. I went back and fixed it, but missed the window. Mods, could you just end the post with “should not be printed”? I’ve lost track of what my whole point was.

Cats have freedom of expression rights too!

I’ve not read that case, but I’m familiar with the argument in similar contexts. It’s that malls and other enclosed spaces, although privately owned, are the modern agora. A government can therefore pass a law to say that the property owner’s rights give way to individuals who are peacefully on the property for political activities. It’s a statutory restriction on the property right.

A statutory restriction on property rights to further the goal of free expression, particularly political expression.

It’s an example of the state saying that as between property and freedom of expression, freedom of expression in the modern agora is more important.

Into its component parts (separate corporation runs the data collection than runs the chat platform)? Regional entities? Whatever US courts would decide would be a suitable way to gut its monopoly.