Clarence Thomas Condemns Condemns Big Tech Overreach, Section 230, Twitter
By Movieguide® Staff
The Supreme Court recently dismissed the lower court ruling that accused former President Donald Trump of violating First Amendment rights.
Lawyers represented critics of Trump, whom the former POTUS had blocked on Twitter. The lawsuit claimed that the former president’s Twitter account acted as an official government news source, making his blocking other accounts illegal.
However, the Supreme Court ruled that the case is void because Trump is no longer in office and is under a current ban on Twitter for “inciting violence.”
Although the Supreme Court dropped the initial lawsuit, other courts claim that elected official’s media should be treated as public forums, according to NPR.
While the dismissal did not come as a surprise, Justice Clarence Thomas’s concurrence in the ruling has garnered attention from big tech.
Thomas questioned the broader social media market and Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. This landmark law protects technology companies from lawsuits and offers control over speech on media sites.
Thomas pointed out Twitter’s abuse of Section 230 in their ban of Trump, claimed that “applying old doctrines to new digital platforms is rarely straightforward.”
“As Twitter made clear, the right to cut off speech lies most powerfully in the hands of private digital platforms. The extent to which that power matters for purposes of the First Amendment and the extent to which that power could lawfully be modified raise interesting and important questions,” Thomas wrote.
In the past year, big tech overreach has become a hot topic. Thomas claims that banning the former president while in office could set a dangerous precedent.
“It changes nothing that these platforms are not the sole means for distributing speech or information. A person always could choose to avoid the toll bridge or train and instead swim the Charles River or hike the Oregon Trail,” Thomas wrote. “But in assessing whether a company exercises substantial market power, what matters is whether the alternatives are comparable. For many of today’s digital platforms, nothing is.”
Thomas views social media companies as a public service, akin to telephone companies, and that they should be “regulated in this manner.”
In October, Thomas said that Big Tech should be held accountable:
Extending §230 immunity beyond the natural reading of the text can have serious consequences. Before giving companies immunity from civil claims for “knowingly host[ing] illegal child pornography,” Bates, 2006 WL 3813758, *3, or for race discrimination, Sikhs for Justice, 697 Fed. Appx., at 526, we should be certain that is what the law demands.
Without the benefit of briefing on the merits, we need not decide today the correct interpretation of §230. But in an appropriate case, it behooves us to do so.
Harvard Law School’s Evelyn Douek saw Twitter’s ban on Trump as the possible start of legal action against social media platforms’ protections.
“I’ve said this repeatedly, but it was terribly short-sighted of liberals to unquestioningly celebrate the unaccountable deplatforming of Trump (not to mention everyone else swept up) as an exercise of private power and cede the point that regulation might actually be beneficial,” Douek tweeted.
I’ve said this repeatedly, but it was terribly short-sighted of liberals to unquestioningly celebrate the unaccountable deplatforming of Trump (not to mention everyone else swept up) as an exercise of private power and cede the point that regulation might actually be beneficial https://t.co/9pObkYY51A
— evelyn douek (@evelyndouek) April 5, 2021
Rachel Bovard, senior director of policy at the Conservative Partnership Institute, also backed Thomas’s view.
“The Thomas concurrence regarding Big Tech has everything: 1) legitimizing the threat of concentrated corporate power; 2) Google gatekeeping info for 90% of the world; 3) gov’t outsourcing censorship; 4) justifications for common carrier regulation,” Bovard tweeted.
The Thomas concurrence regarding Big Tech has everything:
1) legitimizing the threat of concentrated corporate power;
2) Google gatekeeping info for 90% of the world;
3) gov't outsourcing censorship;
4) justifications for common carrier regulation
— Rachel Bovard (@rachelbovard) April 5, 2021
Lawyer Jeff Kosseff pushed back on Thomas’s view, claiming that the Supreme Court neglects the history of Section 230.
“I’m not sure what to make of how much support Justice Thomas’s reading of 230 has among the other eight Justices, particularly because they’ve denied [certiorari] in a few high-profile 230 cases recently,” Kosseff tweeted. “I do think that Thomas’s statement increases the chances that at least two judges on a randomly chosen circuit court panel will rule in favor of must-carry rules for social media platforms.”
I do think that Thomas's statement increases the chances that at least two judges on a randomly chosen circuit court panel will rule in favor of must-carry rules for social media platforms.
— Jeff Kosseff (@jkosseff) April 5, 2021
Ironically, Amazon removed the ability to watch a documentary that featured Justice Thomas called CREATED EQUAL.
Movieguide® previously reported:
Amazon Prime Video has taken great care to celebrate Black History Month through their “Amplify Black Voices” page. However, the streaming platform removed the ability for subscribers to watch a documentary about conservative Justice Clarence Thomas on Friday, February 25.
The documentary, CREATED EQUAL: CLARENCE THOMAS IN HIS OWN WORDS, highlighted the life of the only black justice currently serving on the Supreme Court.
Although the title remains on the streaming platform, it is unavailable to watch and notifies users: “This video is currently unavailable to watch in your location.”
However, both The Federalist and Breitbart have reported that the notice is nationwide.