"Public Utility" vs. Speech and Property

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

An article about social media laws being scrutinized by the Supreme Court summarizes the stakes as follows:

The owner of this auditorium does not "censor" when he decides who can or can't lecture there. (Image by Dom Fou, via Unsplash, license.)
The justices will have to decide between radically different conceptions of what social media is. Are these platforms more like old-time phone companies: basically, open to everyone without filtering?

Or, are they more like bookstores and newspapers, places that edit and curate information, that get the highest level of First Amendment protection?
Or, as conservatives of the ilk who once whined about "fairness" in search results, are social media companies "public utilities" and, as such, subject to longstanding (but illegitimate) regulations?

It is a shame that we have this longstanding abuse of government power on the books, because it muddies what should be a clear-cut case of the states of Florida and Texas violating the property rights of Facebook et al. by attempting to overrule their moderation policies.

(That this was done possibly in reaction to federal government jawboning does not justify the states doing it or exempt the federal government from being barred from dictating content moderation policies.)

The fact that a company grows large enough that it is commonplace for people to rely on it does not make its owners rightless or duty-bound at any point.

It is a travesty to see government regulation of "public utilities" go unquestioned while the right to free speech is under trial -- by people at least some of whom understand what that is even less than they do property rights -- as witness the assertions that social media companies are "censoring" content.

Censorship is an abuse possible only to governments.

-- CAV

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