Social media has become a massive contributor to how we communicate. Being a conduit of conducting free speech provides social media with extensive legal protections against users posting content that causes negative legal ramifications. However, with social media platforms beginning to heavily moderate and curate content, this classification has come into question.
Content Publisher Or Speech Platform, What Are They?
The line that social media platforms are threatening to cross is between that of a publisher and a communication platform. Legally, an ISP or a phone line is not responsible for any of the content or communications that happen through their network because the users are the ones generating those communications and they are considered communication platforms. A website such as a news network’s site however is a content publisher because the company is responsible for all the content on its website. These two things have very different protections and are liable for different things under the law.
Legal Protections Of A Speech Platform
Through a law known as Section 230 a speech platform, or conduit of speech, is given quite a bit of legal protection that protects the company from the legal consequences that would arise from defamatory, copyright infringing, or other illegal content that was posted to their platforms. As mentioned earlier, phone lines and ISP’s are the most clearly defined examples of this, no one blames the phone company for what people say during their calls.
Publishers, however, do not have any of these legal protections and are held legally responsible for the content that they post because they oversee all the information that comes out from them. Currently, social media platforms have the same protections as the phone line or an ISP since their platforms’ content is largely user-generated.
What Should A Social Media Platform Be Considered Legally?
Social media is somewhere in between the two because, on one hand, social media platforms have content coming in extremely fast from anyone who wants to generate it, but on the other hand social media platforms have recently taken to heavy moderation, censorship, and curation of content that they allow on the website or show to other users. These actions are pushing social media platforms closer to what would be considered a publisher as they control more of their content. However, if social media platforms were to lose these legal protections they would likely have to dramatically increase the level of moderation, which is impractical because of the volume of posts or would be held responsible for the actions of the users it was not able to crack down upon. Which one they should be legally classified as is up for debate, but as of right now platforms that moderate the content posted on their websites by users can still be considered speech conduits so they are likely to stay a speech platform.
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