The Justice Department’s announcement yesterday that it will meet with states to discuss whether social media companies are "intentionally" stifling free speech represents a potentially dangerous new step in the wrong direction. Instead of focusing on making social media accountable and transparent, the Justice Department’s effort seems aimed at pressuring social media platforms to censor or promote speech in accordance with the government’s views of which speech it prefers.
If the Justice Department is aiming at convincing state attorneys general to exercise their new powers under FOSTA, or worse, further undermine platforms' ability to host our speech by making them liable for what we say, all of us who rely on social media platforms will lose out. We know that governmental censorship schemes almost always silence the less powerful, quiet the opposition voices, and harm legal speech that the government doesn’t like. This power is dangerous in the hands of any government, which is why the First Amendment places it beyond governmental control.
Social media platforms play an outsize role in what we can say on the Internet. The industry is under massive pressure to do a better job at handling hate speech and misinformation. The answer to this must include increased accountability and due process for speakers online. We should demand that platforms be open about their takedown rules and to follow a consistent, fair, and transparent process, as outlined in the Santa Clara Principles.
Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms need to step up their game to protect their users—but the way to do that is through increasing accountability, not by government strong-arming them into silencing government critics and promoting government favorites.