The Volokh Conspiracy

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Free Speech

"Trump Was Kicked Off Twitter. Who's Next?"

"We should be wary of corporate power over political speech."


This is a new op-ed of mine in the N.Y. Times tonight (note that, as usual, the headline and the subhead were written by the editors, not by me). An excerpt:

Recall the Supreme Court's 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which held that corporations and unions have the First Amendment right to speak about political candidates. I happen to agree with the court's decision in that case, but four justices and a legion of commentators didn't. Many were concerned that by using their wealth, corporations would undermine democracy and unduly influence elections and sway elected officials.

Yet Citizens United was just about whether corporations could spend money to convey their views. Now we have a few huge corporations actually blocking someone's ability to convey his views. Plus, such blocking affects not just the speaker; it also affects the millions of people who use Facebook and Twitter to hear what their elected officials have to say.

And what happens once is likely to happen again. After this, there'll be pressure to get Facebook, Twitter and other companies to suppress other speech, such as fiery rhetoric against the police or oil companies or world trade authorities. People will demand: If you blocked A, why aren't you blocking B? Aren't you being hypocritical or discriminatory? …

Companies, moreover, are run by humans, subject to normal human failings. Mr. Trump's suspension may have been motivated by a sincere desire to resist efforts "to undermine the peaceful and lawful transition of power," as Facebook's chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, put it. But other politicians might be suspended because their policies are bad for corporate profits or contrary to the owners' political ideologies.

The standard Times op-ed deal doesn't let me post the whole piece until 30 days after I publish it. (As you know, we moved here to Reason in part because the Washington Post was putting us behind a hard paywall; but while I don't like having most of my stuff behind a paywall, I'm OK with having <0.1% of my items there.) But if you have N.Y. Times access, I hope you read the whole thing.