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What Is the Future of Social Media Regulation? – The Regulatory Review

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Justice Thomas signals the potential for regulation of social media platforms and their power over speech.

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In early April, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling in the case of Biden v. Knight First Amendment Institute. The ruling was largely insignificant, as the Court held that the case was moot. The concurrence issued by Justice Clarence Thomas, however, sent both the legal world and many parts of the internet abuzz. In his opinion, Justice Thomas issued the first words from the Supreme Court concerning the current debate around the power of social media platforms, writing:

Today’s digital platforms provide avenues for historically unprecedented amounts of speech, including speech by government actors. Also unprecedented, however, is the concentrated control of so much speech in the hands of a few private parties. We will soon have no choice but to address how our legal doctrines apply to highly concentrated, privately owned information infrastructure such as digital platforms.

Although most Americans agree that social media companies have too much political power, consensus on the appropriate government response has been far more elusive. Some states have already begun to take some degree of action against perceived biases in online platforms. In Texas, for example, a proposed law would treat social media companies like common carriers and prohibit “deplatforming” based on viewpoint. Also, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has proposed a law that would protect political candidates from being banned on social media.

Justice Thomas’s concurrence appears to favor a position similar to the proposed Texas law. In his opinion, he cited the 1994 case Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. v. Federal Communications Commission, in which the Court required cable operators to carry broadcast signals. Discussing Turner, Justice Thomas questioned why—if telephone companies are required to act as common carriers—digital platforms could not be treated in a similar fashion.

In addition, even accepting the private property arguments made by opponents of social media regulation, some form of regulation would not be unprecedented. In his opinion, Justice Thomas cited PruneYard Shopping Center v. Robins, in which the Court concluded that a state could require a shopping mall to allow protesters to engage in advocacy on private mall property. Similarly, the Court or a legislature could find that citizens have a constitutional right to voice their opinions on social media platforms, despite the private nature of these platforms.

If states begin to pass legislation requiring social media platforms to host any speaker under the reasoning of PruneYard, they could set up a legal battle with the platforms that have used Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act as a justification for free reign in curating the users of their services. In analyzing Justice Thomas’s opinion, law professor Eugene Volokh of the University of California, Los Angeles wrote that the justice “is anticipating what might be done through legislation, and whether new state laws that do treat platforms as common carriers (more or less) are going to be seen as blocked by the First Amendment or Section 230.” Volokh predicts “that is an issue the Court will likely have to deal with in coming years.” Unless something changes dramatically in how social media companies operate or in the state of political discourse, it seems almost inevitable that this debate will come to a head in the courts.

Much of the current debate echoes similar discussions throughout the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s about the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) fairness doctrine. The fairness doctrine required broadcasters that devoted a portion of their airtime to discussing controversial matters of public interest to also air contrasting views on those matters. The fairness doctrine was at the center of the case Red Lion Broadcasting Co., Inc. v. Federal Communications Commission. It was upheld by the Supreme Court but the FCC abandoned the doctrine in 1987. Some commentators have noted that Justice Thomas’s opinion sounds like a call for a revival of some form of the fairness doctrine.

As a concurrence, Justice Thomas’s opinion does not set any precedent. But it signals that at least one justice is concerned with the current state of the First Amendment. After decades in which online platforms have relied on the protections afforded them by Section 230, is some form of platform regulation possible?

It seems unlikely that a majority of the Court will decide in the foreseeable future to curtail the independence of social media platforms. Law professor Steve Vladeck of the University of Texas at Austin noted that the bigger story behind Justice Thomas’s opinion is that no other member of the Court chose to join him.

For now, the Court is not likely to move one way or another on social media regulation. If, however, some of the proposed state legislation on the matter becomes law, the Court may not have any choice but to address the issue.

Eric Cervone

Eric Cervone is a lawyer who writes about issues relating to free speech.

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Social media companies targeted in potential online harms bill, but legislation still a ways off – The Globe and Mail

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The federal government has launched a new consultation that it says will lead to combatting online hate shared on social media sites – a move that has prompted advocates to say real change isn’t coming fast enough.

The government is asking the public to respond to a proposal that includes creating a new Digital Safety Commissioner of Canada, as well as a Digital Recourse Council that Canadians can petition in order to have content removed from social media sites. The Recourse Council would have the power to make binding decisions to make sites remove content, though the consequences for not abiding by that ruling are not yet clear.

The plans, announced Thursday, focus on five categories of online harms: terrorist content, hate speech, content that incites violence, child sexual exploitation and the non-consensual sharing of images.

As government hosts antisemitism summit, opposition leaders say they should have been invited to speak

The government says it wants to bring in legislation on online hate, aimed at social media companies that play a role in sharing content. It would be in addition to Bill C-36, which targeted public hate speech by individuals. Bill C-36 did not pass into law after being introduced by the Liberal government at the end of the parliamentary session. If an election is called this summer, as is widely expected, the legislation will no longer move forward.

Despite a campaign being anticipated soon, Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault said the new online harms bill would be introduced as a top priority “very early on when the House resumes its work in the fall.”

“We’re hearing loud and clear from Canadians that something needs to be done about online hate,” Mr. Guilbeault said in an interview.

“What we’re presenting is what we feel is the best course forward, but we want to hear Canadians on that, and that’s what we’ll be doing in the coming weeks.”

The government has posted details of its proposed approach on the Canadian Heritage section of its website and is asking the public to provide feedback by e-mail. The potential legislation would apply to sites such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, but would exclude private communication channels such as WhatsApp and telecommunications networks.

Bernie Farber, chair of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, said creating online hate legislation would be a positive move. However, he said that at the moment it’s only “a plan to make a plan.”

“It should not have taken this long and it should not be taking any longer,” he said. “My fear is that an election is going to get called and this just gets swept away into partisan politics and people forget about it.”

Mr. Farber also raised the issue of how the process of dealing with online hate still heavily relies on victims self-reporting to have content removed, and said he’d like to see more of the onus fall on a new commissioner instead.

Daniel Bernhard, executive director of the advocacy group Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, said in a statement that platforms such as Facebook and YouTube must be held responsible for their role in promoting illegal content on their sites. “Legislation aimed at tackling online harm must send a clear message to these firms and their leaders: if you allow illegal content to circulate on your platform, you will pay a price,” the statement reads.

Rob Moore, Conservative Shadow Minister for Justice and the Attorney General of Canada, said in an e-mailed statement Thursday that his party is “deeply concerned with the Liberal’s plan to create an online speech regulator whose powers are overly broad and ill-defined.”

Know what is happening in the halls of power with the day’s top political headlines and commentary as selected by Globe editors (subscribers only). Sign up today.

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Social Reset promotes healthy social media usage – Belleville Intelligencer

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In a world dominated by online algorithms, Social Reset is working to free people from social media and help them develop a healthier relationship with the internet.

Its campaign begins in August. Those participating will team up by pledging to reduce their social media usage for the entire month. One of Social Reset’s founders, Jordan Wiener, hopes this smartphone-less time facilitates meaningful connections with loved ones.

“The idea is that you get more time connecting with each other offline,” he said. “(Social Reset) is really not about, you know, raising money or doing any of this. It’s about putting down your phone, going outside and making memories with your friends and family.”

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Wiener is one of several Queen’s University alumni behind Social Reset; its current 10 volunteers and 14 ambassadors are primarily composed of former and current students. A shared desire to act in the face of complacency unites them.

“(Social Reset) started out of a frustration between the awareness of the social media problem and the action,” Wiener said. “I’d speak to friends for an hour, but I’d follow up with them a month later, and no one had done anything about it.”

He blames the design of social media apps for this dissonance.

“Everyone knows that this is a problem, but it’s something that’s really hard to do something about because these platforms can be so addictive.”

Social Reset is how Wiener and colleagues are fighting for change. In partnering with Jack.org and the Centre for Humane Technology, they’ve created an initiative to help participants re-evaluate their relationship with social media.

Pledging can be done individually or as a group. Social Reset’s website offers different pathways for people pledging alone, with a group of friends, or with family. All pledges will receive a weekly “Adventure Guide” containing ideas for smartphone-free activities.

While Wiener lives happily without any social media, he recognizes how platforms such as Instagram and TikTok can often become creative outlets. He believes that intention is central in developing a healthy relationship with them.

“So instead of compulsively checking your phone and going on and watching things that you don’t know why you’re watching, you (should) say, ‘I’m using social media for this’ and then use it strictly for that purpose,” Wiener explained.

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He warned that without intention, social media ends up using its users.

“(Otherwise) they’ve got you addicted to the algorithm, and they’re profiting off of you for each second that you spend on the platform,” he said.

The Social Reset team has also been teaching purposeful social media usage in classrooms through an educational workshop. It has interactive programming for all ages, but children in grades 7 and 8 have been their primary focus.

“We’re youth presenting this workshop to other youth,” Wiener said. “We explain how social media can be an awesome thing but also challenging. Then we leave the class to come up with their own ‘creative contract’ of rules that they’re going to impose and try for a week.”

These rules chosen by the children can be anything from not using phones before bed to dedicating more screen-free time to family.

“A week after they’ve done that, we come back in with them, and for 45 minutes everyone just kind of shares their experiences,” Wiener said.

Through its August campaign and educational workshops, Social Reset is working hard to improve our relationship with social media.

Those interested in pledging can find more information at thesocialreset.org.

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Social Reset promotes healthy social media usage – The Kingston Whig-Standard

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Article content

In a world dominated by online algorithms, Social Reset is working to free people from social media and help them develop a healthier relationship with the internet.

Its campaign begins in August. Those participating will team up by pledging to reduce their social media usage for the entire month. One of Social Reset’s founders, Jordan Wiener, hopes this smartphone-less time facilitates meaningful connections with loved ones.

“The idea is that you get more time connecting with each other offline,” he said. “(Social Reset) is really not about, you know, raising money or doing any of this. It’s about putting down your phone, going outside and making memories with your friends and family.”

Advertisement

Article content

Wiener is one of several Queen’s University alumni behind Social Reset; its current 10 volunteers and 14 ambassadors are primarily composed of former and current students. A shared desire to act in the face of complacency unites them.

“(Social Reset) started out of a frustration between the awareness of the social media problem and the action,” Wiener said. “I’d speak to friends for an hour, but I’d follow up with them a month later, and no one had done anything about it.”

He blames the design of social media apps for this dissonance.

“Everyone knows that this is a problem, but it’s something that’s really hard to do something about because these platforms can be so addictive.”

Social Reset is how Wiener and colleagues are fighting for change. In partnering with Jack.org and the Centre for Humane Technology, they’ve created an initiative to help participants re-evaluate their relationship with social media.

Pledging can be done individually or as a group. Social Reset’s website offers different pathways for people pledging alone, with a group of friends, or with family. All pledges will receive a weekly “Adventure Guide” containing ideas for smartphone-free activities.

While Wiener lives happily without any social media, he recognizes how platforms such as Instagram and TikTok can often become creative outlets. He believes that intention is central in developing a healthy relationship with them.

“So instead of compulsively checking your phone and going on and watching things that you don’t know why you’re watching, you (should) say, ‘I’m using social media for this’ and then use it strictly for that purpose,” Wiener explained.

Advertisement

Article content

He warned that without intention, social media ends up using its users.

“(Otherwise) they’ve got you addicted to the algorithm, and they’re profiting off of you for each second that you spend on the platform,” he said.

The Social Reset team has also been teaching purposeful social media usage in classrooms through an educational workshop. It has interactive programming for all ages, but children in grades 7 and 8 have been their primary focus.

“We’re youth presenting this workshop to other youth,” Wiener said. “We explain how social media can be an awesome thing but also challenging. Then we leave the class to come up with their own ‘creative contract’ of rules that they’re going to impose and try for a week.”

These rules chosen by the children can be anything from not using phones before bed to dedicating more screen-free time to family.

“A week after they’ve done that, we come back in with them, and for 45 minutes everyone just kind of shares their experiences,” Wiener said.

Through its August campaign and educational workshops, Social Reset is working hard to improve our relationship with social media.

Those interested in pledging can find more information at thesocialreset.org.

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