Social media has become a major component of how we communicate with each other. It is a conduit for people to conduct free speech, providing legal protection against people posting content that would usually cause negative legal ramifications. However, with 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 walks is between that of a publisher and that of a communication platform. Legally, an ISP or a phone line is not responsible for any of the content or communications that happen through their networks. Users are the only ones generating these communications and they are considered communication platforms. A website such as a news network 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 elements 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 previously mentioned, phone lines and ISP’s are the most black and white examples of this. No one blames the phone company for what people say during their calls.
Content Publishers, however, do not have any of these legal protections and are held legally responsible for the content they post. They must oversee all information that comes 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?
Social media is somewhere between the two. On one hand, social media platforms have content coming in rapidly from users. On the other hand, social media platforms have recently taken to heavy moderation, censorship, and curation of content they allow. 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 legal protections they would likely have to increase the level of moderation or be held responsible for the actions of the users. Which is impractical due to the volume of posts. How they should be legally classified is currently up for debate. As of now, platforms that moderate content posted on their websites (by users) can still be considered speech conduits, so they will likely stay a speech platform.