A First Amendment For Social Platforms

Publication Type: 
Other Writing
Publication Date: 
June 2, 2016

The great 21st-century platforms — Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Snapchat, and the rest — have this year found themselves in the middle of the speech wars. Twitter is struggling to contain vile trolling and harassment, and Facebook has gotten scalded on the little toe it dipped into curating journalism.

They have run into trouble where the lines blur between their missions and the missions of the journalists, activists, and other citizens who use them. The platforms’ own missions are vast, and clear: They power social connection, free expression, and the distribution of news and entertainment on an unprecedented scale. But they largely don’t create speech themselves — most don’t have their own reporters or they generate their own content.

And so their core mission can’t and won’t be realized by what they say, but rather in how they empower, constrain, and manage what other people say. The trust we place in them is ultimately about whether we trust them to manage our own collective expression.

For this trust to endure, these platforms must be transparent about their own policies and be consistent in their enforcement. Fortunately, experimenting platforms do not need to start from scratch. Lawyers and judges have spent centuries wrestling with similar questions surrounding free speech. Their answers can be deployed to defend the remarkable global public squares the platforms have created.

Read the full piece at Medium