Big technology platform players like Facebook and Google could see massive changes in regulations if US Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas gets traction on his idea that the segment should be regulated like utilities, CNBC reported on Tuesday, April 6.
The conservative associate justice, who was appointed by President George H.W. Bush in 1991, voiced his opinion in a concurrence submitted with a decision to vacate a lower court’s ruling regarding former President Donald Trump’s Twitter account, noted CNBC.
“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 part of his 12-page decision. “There is a fair argument that some digital platforms are sufficiently akin to common carriers or places of accommodation to be regulated in this manner,” he added.
The Supreme Court decision negated a federal appeals court ruling that Trump violated the Constitution by keeping anyone critical of him off his Twitter feed. The lower court’s opinion was that excluding some citizens from a public forum violates their First Amendment rights. Since Trump is no longer in office, the Supreme Court said the case is moot. With the dismissal, the federal appeals court decision cannot be used as a precedent for future cases.
“Any control Mr. Trump exercised over the account greatly paled in comparison to Twitter’s authority, dictated in its terms of service, to remove the account ‘at any time for any or no reason,’” Thomas wrote.
In order for digital platforms to be regulated the same as utilities, there would have to be basic changes to how the companies currently operate, the report noted. Any such changes could make it difficult for social platforms to moderate posts and comments for hate speech, fake news, nudity and harassment. Democrats have largely been lobbying for tech platforms to take on more liability if they choose to host illegal or unsavory content and to hold them accountable for removing it in a timely manner.