Big Tech’s Tightening Grip on Internet Speech

GREGORY M. DICKINSON

Assistant Professor of Law and, by courtesy, Computer Science, St. Thomas University
College of Law; Nonresidential Fellow, Stanford Law School, Program in Law, Science &
Technology; J.D., Harvard Law School.

Online platforms have completely transformed American social life. They
have democratized publication, overthrown old gatekeepers, and given ordinary
Americans a fresh voice in politics. But the system is beginning to falter. Control
over online speech lies in the hands of a select few—Facebook, Google, and
Twitter—who moderate content for the entire nation. It is an impossible task.
Americans cannot even agree among themselves what speech should be
permitted. And, more importantly, platforms have their own interests at stake:
Fringe theories and ugly name-calling drive away users. Moderation is good for
business. But platform beautification has consequences for society’s unpopular
members, whose unsightly voices are silenced in the process. With control over
online speech so centralized, online outcasts are left with few avenues for
expression.
Concentrated private control over important resources is an old problem.
Last century, for example, saw the rise of railroads and telephone networks. To
ensure access, such entities are treated as common carriers and required to
provide equal service to all comers. Perhaps the same should be true for social
media. This Essay responds to recent calls from Congress, the Supreme Court,
and academia arguing that, like common carriers, online platforms should be
required to carry all lawful content. The Essay studies users’ and platforms’
competing expressive interests, analyzes problematic trends in platforms’
censorship practices, and explores the costs of common-carrier regulation before
ultimately proposing market expansion and segmentation as an alternate pathway
to avoid the economic and social costs of common-carrier regulation.

These two rights Americans hold dear: the freedom to speak their minds and

the freedom not to listen when someone speaking her mind tries to tell them what

to do. But over the last two years, social-media platforms have somehow

managed to ruin both—curtailing Americans’ power to express their views

through well-intentioned, but too-powerful content nannying.

Read Professor Dickinson’s entire article here.

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