The Supreme Court against social media

The Supreme Court ruled in favor of social media companies on Tuesday by blocking, for now, a Texas law that would have prohibited major apps such as Facebook and Twitter from weeding out posts based on the opinions they have. expressed.

But the issue could come back to court, and at least three justices seem willing to consider a question that could fundamentally change social media as we know it: Do sites like Facebook have a First Amendment right to allow certain content? and no others, or an obligation to distribute just about anything?

The judges’ interest shows that we’re all still figuring out how to deal with a handful of social media companies with huge sway over the public conversation. Few people are happy with this reality, but it is unclear what to do about it.

Let me explain how we got here:

What the First Amendment says:

The First Amendment restricts government censorship, but it does not apply to decisions made by corporations.

You may not agree with the internet companies’ picks, but First Amendment scholars have said Facebook has the constitutional right to suspend Donald Trump’s account. Twitter may decree that people are not allowed to spam their followers with marketing material. The government did not intervene in these choices.

Enter Texas. And Florida.

Conservative politicians have long complained that Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other social media companies are unfairly removing or downgrading certain conservative views. I haven’t seen any credible research that supports this view, but many people believe it.

In response to this, a Texas law signed last year, HB 20, prohibited major social media companies from censoring people based on “the user’s or another person’s point of view.”

Internet company associations and some constitutional rights groups have said the Texas law violates the First Amendment because it allows the state to tell private companies what kinds of speech they can or cannot broadcast.

The internet companies went further and said that social media apps enjoy the same general First Amendment protections against government interference in “editorial judgment” that apply to news organizations.

Texas countered that Facebook, Twitter and others have no such First Amendment protections because they are more like old telegraphs, telephone companies and home Internet service providers. Greater government interference is allowed for these “common carriers” because people cannot be stopped from using essential communication tools.

A majority of justices said Tuesday that the Texas law could not go into effect while an appeal was pending in the court system. They haven’t decided on either side’s interpretation of how the First Amendment should apply to social media in the 21st century.

What happens next:

A federal appeals court recently ruled unconstitutional a Florida law passed last year that also attempted to restrict the discretion of social media companies over expression. The Supreme Court may eventually take the Texas or Florida law and rule on its constitutional merits.

On Tuesday and in earlier comments, three justices expressed openness to considering how the First Amendment should or should not apply to social media.

In a case last year, Judge Clarence Thomas raised the idea that social media would have similar responsibilities to public carriers for not restricting speech. And on Tuesday, Thomas and Judge Neil Gorsuch signed a dissenting opinion written by Judge Samuel Alito that said, “It’s not at all clear how our existing precedents, which predate the Internet age, should apply to large social media companies. Alito also wrote that he had “not formed a definitive opinion on the new legal issues” raised by Texas social media law.

These cases force us to ask ourselves a fundamental question about the kind of world we want to live in: are Facebook, Twitter and YouTube so influential in our world that the government should restrict their decisions, or are they private companies that should have the freedom to set their own rules?

Learn more about Texas law from our colleagues at DealBook.

In this New York Times guest essay from December, Jameel Jaffer and Scott Wilkens of Columbia University’s Knight First Amendment Institute wrote that social media platforms are neither like newspapers nor public carriers.


  • The online trail of the accused mass killer in Buffalo: My colleagues Steven Lee Myers and Stuart A. Thompson have written that the continued prevalence of racist and violent content online “reveals the limits of efforts by companies like Twitter and Google to moderate posts, images and videos that promote violence. extremism and violence.

  • Bring back this feature from the 1990s: The old AOL Instant Messenger allowed people to set up “away messages” that discouraged people from starting a conversation if you didn’t want to be disturbed. Lauren Goode, writer for Wired, said it was a simple but powerful feature for freeing people from distractions and she missed it.

  • A lighting assistant came to the restaurant for optimal video recording of the aperitifs. This Eater essay is a thoughtful reflection on how TikTok is changing the way we think about restaurants in ways that are both helpful and hurtful.

The Oregon Zoo and some Girl Scouts helped release endangered pond turtles into the wild. The turtles and girl scouts looked like they had a blast.


We want to hear from you. Let us know what you think of this newsletter and what else you would like us to explore. You can reach us at ontech@nytimes.com.

If you do not already receive this newsletter in your inbox, please register here. You can also read old On Tech columns.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: