On Monday, the Supreme Court dismissed a case concerning former President Donald Trump blocking twitter critics.
The case, Trump v. Knight First Amendment Institute, claimed that Trump was violating the First Amendment rights of Twitter users who criticized him by blocking them. After this appeal was formally thrown out by the court, and Trump’s account was banned by Twitter, the court decided the case was void.
Trump, @realdonaldtrump on Twitter, was banned following the riot at the Capitol on January 6th, 2021. The platform alleged that Trump encouraged violence and moderated the account “due to the risk of further incitement of violence.” Recently, private tech companies have been in the spotlight for their far-reaching ability to suppress and silence users through shadow-banning and temporarily banning accounts.
Trump’s case has raised questions about the power of social media platforms, with Justice Clarence Thomas writing that the issue is with “the dominant digital platforms themselves. As Twitter made clear, the right to cut off speech lies most powerfully in the hands of private digital platforms.” In his ruling, Justice Thomas cited Section 230, of the Communications Decency Act, the landmark law protecting technology companies from lawsuits while providing them with the freedom to moderate users. Many, including Thomas, question the applicability of Section 230 on tech companies in 2021. Having been passed in 1996, the act did not know the upcoming exponential growth and power of online platforms.
Thomas’s concurring opinion in Biden v. Knight First Amendment Institute suggested that major social media companies could be treated as both “common carriers” and as “places of public accommodation,” two designations that would restrict platforms’ ability to bar certain speech. “Even if digital platforms are not close enough to common carriers,” Thomas said, “legislatures might still be able to treat digital platforms like places of public accommodation.” Thomas cited an argument that, when states pass laws barring social media censorship, Section 230 itself may violate the First Amendment by preempting those state laws.
“Justice Thomas is right: Big Tech’s massive power to deliver and control the information flow in America gives it ‘common carrier’ status,” said Mike Davis, founder of the anti-230 Internet Accountability Project. Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Twitter “have a different responsibility than other companies—the responsibility to avoid viewpoint discrimination and to protect the free-speech rights of its users.” In Trump’s case, the Justice Department argued that removing users from his page was akin to elected officials who refuse to allow their opponents’ yard signs on their front lawns. A New York federal appeals court ruled last year that Trump used the account to make daily announcements and observations that are official in nature. Therefore, silencing a viewpoint was unconstitutional.
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ARTICLE: ANTOINETTE AHO
POLITICS EDITOR: CARSON CHOATE
PHOTO CREDITS: WIRED