US Supreme Court brings end to Trump Twitter fight - worldwide

Rodiano Bonacci
Апреля 6, 2021

"Today's digital platforms provide avenues for historically unprecedented amounts of speech, including speech by government actors".

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas argued that tech platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and Google should be regulated like utilities.

Twitter's decision to ban Trump created a contentious debate online over the issue of freedom of speech and the power that private companies exerted in the situation where a sitting U.S. president could be deplatformed.

"Any control Mr. Trump exercised over the account greatly paled in comparison to Twitter's authority, dictated in its terms of service, to remove the account 'at any time for any or no reason, '" he added.

Thomas pivoted away from Trump's Twitter behavior in the 12-page opinion, mounting an argument that the moderation powers of digital platforms like Twitter and Facebook are the real problem.

In his opinion, Thomas suggested that large social media platforms could be analogized to "common carriers" or "places of public accommodation".

"Because unbridled control of the account resided in the hands of a private party, First Amendment doctrine may not have applied to respondents' complaint of stifled speech", Thomas pointed out, stating that "w$3 hether governmental use of private space implicates the First Amendment often depends on the government's control over that space". "We will soon have no choice but to address how our legal doctrines apply to highly concentrated, privately owned information infrastructure such as digital platforms".

After Trump lost his bid for re-election, the Justice Department urged SCOTUS to deem the case as moot. At the centre of this issue is Section 230, which provides one of the core legal foundations for this matter, but which is in dire need of updating. Thomas goes on to ask whether social media should be considered "common carriers" in the same way telecoms companies already are, which in turn would limit their right to exclude.

In 2019, he called for reconsideration of a landmark First Amendment precedent New York Times v. Sullivan, which makes it more hard for public figures to sue for defamation, opining that the decision that was a "policy-driven" decision "masquerading as constitutional law".

Thomas also rejected the notion that other options exist. The Supreme Court has said the government may not discriminate in a public forum on the basis of a speaker's views.

"As Twitter made clear, the right to cut off speech lies most powerfully in the hands of private digital platforms", Thomas said.

Thomas agreed with his colleagues about the outcome of the case, but said the situation raises "interesting and important questions". "But if the aim is to ensure that speech is not smothered, then the more glaring concern must perforce be the dominant digital platforms themselves".

Social media companies and the laws that shield them from liability for user-posted content have come under fire in recent years.

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