Social media has become a massive component of how we communicate. Being a conduit for people to conduct free speech provides us with extensive legal protection against people posting content that causes negative legal consequences. However, with more and more social media platforms heavily moderating and curating content, this classification has come into question.
Content Publisher Or Speech Platform
The line that social media platforms walk 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 happens through their networks because the users are the only ones generating those communications and they are considered communication platforms. A website such as a news network’s website 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 in the law.
Legal Protections Of A Speech Platform
Under a law known as Section 230 a speech platform, or conduit of speech, is given extensive legal protections that protect the company from the legal ramifications that would come from defamatory, copyright infringing, or other illegal content that was conducted over their platforms. As was 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 the middle of the two because, on one hand, social media platforms have content coming in extremely fast from anyone who wants to post 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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