Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has warned that social media companies like Facebook and Twitter’s decisions to censor conservative speech may have dire consequences. Recently, Thomas blasted Section 240 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects these companies from the consequences of their actions for many things, including censorship.
NPR reports that Thomas is incensed that Twitter and other companies abused their platforms to unfairly ban President Trump and others simply for exercising their First Amendment rights:
…Thomas took broad aim at social media networks, attacking Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, the landmark law that protects technology companies from lawsuits and also provides platforms wide latitude in patrolling speech on their sites.
To Thomas, Twitter’s ban of Trump exposed the potential abuses of this legal protection, noting how “applying old doctrines to new digital platforms is rarely straightforward.”
Thomas went on: “As Twitter made clear, the right to cut off speech lies most powerfully in the hands of private digital platforms. The extent to which that power matters for purposes of the First Amendment and the extent to which that power could lawfully be modified raise interesting and important questions,” Thomas wrote.
Big Tech companies Facebook and Google, Thomas pointed out, have vast and largely unchecked control over online marketplaces.
“It changes nothing that these platforms are not the sole means for distributing speech or information. A person always could choose to avoid the toll bridge or train and instead swim the Charles River or hike the Oregon Trail,” Thomas says. “But in assessing whether a company exercises substantial market power, what matters is whether the alternatives are comparable. For many of today’s digital platforms, nothing is.”
Thomas feels that social media companies are “sufficiently akin” to a public utility like a phone company, and should be “regulated in this manner” rather than be given unchecked censorship power.
Could the Supreme Court step up and force social media companies to be fair under the First Amendment? Only time will tell — but Thomas clearly wants to.