On April 10, 2018, Mark Zuckerberg, founder and chief executive of Facebook, took a chair beneath an array of Senators to answer for the uneasiness his company’s behavior had been giving the public. The testimony comprised a broad variety of concerns – from user privacy to election meddling, to misinformation and an alleged bias in combatting it. The latter concern has fascinating legal implications we will discuss today.
More pointedly speaking, allegations that the large social media companies’ community guidelines have been enforced selectively have sparked a public controversy. The accounts of some particularly controversial speakers, for better or worse, have been shut down, and others report that the volume of exposure their content gets has suddenly dwindled. Pundits, for the most part on the right wing, have strongly condemned the companies, and ensuing arguments tend to hit all the philosophical tenets of the classical debate over free speech.
The First Amendment does not ensure anyone’s place on a private platform; it only restricts the government from discriminating with regard to speech, including, but not limited to, hate speech. For the most part, it is left to market pressures to correct any perceived bias or wrongdoing on the part of the social media companies. There are other areas of the law, however, that social media companies have some potential to run afoul of. Critics and commentators have brought up both antitrust law and publishing law issues. Although, there is debate over the likelihood that companies like Facebook infract upon either, yet the potential does exist.