Tuesday, January 12, 2021
Section 230 is the carrot, and there’s also a stick: Congressional Democrats have repeatedly made explicit threats to social-media giants if they failed to censor speech those lawmakers disfavored. In April 2019, Louisiana Rep. Cedric Richmond warned Facebook and Google that they had “better” restrict what he and his colleagues saw as harmful content or face regulation: “We’re going to make it swift, we’re going to make it strong, and we’re going to hold them very accountable.” New York Rep. Jerrold Nadler added: “Let’s see what happens by just pressuring them.”
Such threats have worked. In September 2019, the day before another congressional grilling was to begin, Facebook announced important new restrictions on “hate speech.” It’s no accident that big tech took its most aggressive steps against Mr. Trump just as Democrats were poised to take control of the White House and Senate. Prominent Democrats promptly voiced approval of big tech’s actions, which Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal expressly attributed to “a shift in the political winds.”
For more than half a century courts have held that governmental threats can turn private conduct into state action. In Bantam Books v. Sullivan (1963), the Supreme Court found a First Amendment violation when a private bookseller stopped selling works state officials deemed “objectionable” after they sent him a veiled threat of prosecution. In Carlin Communications v. Mountain States Telephone & Telegraph Co. (1987), the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found state action when an official induced a telephone company to stop carrying offensive content, again by threat of prosecution.
This seems to me very promising. Good luck to Vivek Ramaswamy and Jed Rubenfeld.