Steve DelBianco, President and CEO for NetChoice is here to debate the connection between big tech and governments.
Legislation like SB 7072 (Florida) and HB-20 (Texas) empowers state governments to police and control speech online, violating the First Amendment rights of online businesses. These bills trample the First Amendment by allowing the government to force private businesses to host speech they’d otherwise remove or restrict. Internet platforms have a First Amendment protection to curate content and decide whether to host specific kinds of speech.
NPR-ization of the Internet: Proponents of these laws claim they will protect free expression and free enterprise when they actually move us closer to state-run media and state-run internet. This is exactly why our Founders created the First Amendment—to protect us from the government telling us what we can and cannot say.
Unintended Consequences: The law would prohibit social media companies from moderating just about any content — as the court noted. That means social media platforms would be compelled to host hate speech, violent content, X-rated content, etc. With so much inappropriate content and spam, platforms would lose their value to users, especially given that the law prohibits them from curating (organizing) content in certain ways.
In addition to being unconstitutional, these bills are short-sighted: laws like SB-7072 and HB-20 may be appealing to those frustrated by some social media companies blocking some views and content, but they certainly backfire.
Slippery Slope: The Constitution prohibits federal and state governments, not private actors, from restricting Americans’ right to free expression. If the government can force private internet platforms to host certain speech, it’s a short stop before that’s applied to Christian bakers who don’t want to bake custom cakes for same-sex marriages or pro-BLM bakers who don’t want to bake custom cookies for the police union’s holiday party.
Private businesses can’t become a vessel for the government’s preferred messaging or else we risk the First Amendment’s entire purpose: to protect private Americans’ and private businesses’ rights to think freely, speak freely, associate freely, and align their actions with their beliefs as they see fit. Internet platforms have a First Amendment right to curate content and decide whether to host specific kinds of speech.
Ripple Effects: These unconstitutional laws threaten all our First Amendment freedoms. If we accept the basic premise that a majority can enact a law that infringes the rights of the minority (or alternatively, if a minority can infringe the rights of the majority), we’re in deep trouble. Bottomline: Once you accept gov’t compelled speech in the social media context, it’ll just be a matter of time before there’s public pressure (whether from the majority or minority) to force another industry to do the same in another context. For example, Democrats could force oil and gas companies to disclose “facts” about climate change.