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Benefits and Drawbacks

There are a wide array of emergent issues facing free expression across various sectors.

Private Internet Companies—Social Media or Otherwise

Private internet companies, specifically social media companies, are key institutions in the 21st century digital public sphere. As a society, it has never been easier for individuals to connect and communicate with one another. We use the technology available to discuss and share art, thoughts, opinions, ideas, etc. Social media provides a platform where free expression seems readily available. However, it is not.

Social media companies are privately owned companies that have their own policies in place to regulate content based on their values and guidelines. While it seems necessary for the companies to moderate content to meet these norms, it means they do not provide a space in which the First Amendment can be fully exercised. This regulation and implementation of a company’s terms of service threaten one’s right to free expression. To overcome this threat, social media companies should work to find other trusted institutions to moderate content shared by their users.

“Without the connective tissue of trusted and trustworthy intermediate institutions guided by professional and public-regarding norms, the values that freedom of speech is designed to serve are increasingly at risk.”

Social media companies allow people to express themselves in new and exciting ways, but they must be careful not to infringe on free expression through their moderation of content.

Government and Policymaking

The government is in a tricky spot in today’s age, especially when it comes to social media. Because social media companies are privately owned, they have their own rules and standards they enforce. These policies, if regulated by government standards, would violate First Amendment rights.

“If social media companies are treated as state actors and have to abide by existing free speech doctrines—at least in the United States—they will simply not be able to moderate effectively…the minimum requirements for effective online moderation would violate the First Amendment.”

While the government cannot control content that is posted on social media, they do still participate in enforcing rules based on agreements users accept with different social media companies. Through New York Times vs. Sullivan, we saw controversy over free speech of content that was printed. The government does not have control over social media content, but the policies they create do influence what is protected under the First Amendment.

Media and the News Industry

The media and the news industry have been the biggest contributors to the growth of free expression being distributed to the masses. Through the years, media companies have created their own standards to uphold, which has influenced what content they will share.

“20th century media companies often limited speech far more than the law required.”

These standards safeguard the public and ensure decent content is shared with the public; however, they also mean free expression can be limited. Companies often pick and choose content they want to share that fits their brand. For example, porn would not be broadcast on a news channel. This type of standard is created and implemented by the company but is also backed up by legal requirements against defamation, obscenity, and indecency.

The landscape of free expression is undergoing significant shifts across various sectors, posing both opportunities and challenges. Thanks to advancements in technology, individuals enjoy unprecedented connectivity and the ability to exchange ideas through various outlets. Yet, the regulation of content by privately owned entities, guided by their own policies rather than constitutional principles, raises concerns about the full exercise of free speech rights. With these new platforms, we see a lot of benefits, but they also pose the challenge of upholding the essence of free expression.

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