The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Congress members threaten Twitter with regulation if it doesn’t suppress ‘racially divisive communications’ and ‘anti-American sentiments’

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From an Oct. 3 letter by Reps. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.) and Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) to Jack Dorsey of Twitter:

We are disturbed by the ease in which foreign actors were able to manipulate your platform to advance anti-American sentiments that both exacerbates racial tension and ultimately threatens our democracy. More importantly, we are disappointed by the silence from you and others in your industry on ways to counter such blatant manipulation of this medium to build racial animosity, the consequences of which are quite literally life threatening.
As federal representatives for the men and women most harshly affected by the consequences of your irresponsibility, we urge you to clearly outline: 1) what efforts you have made to detect these accounts and actions you have employed to eliminate racially divisive communications from your networks, 2) what security features you have in place to prevent foreign entities from meddling in our election process, 3) and what reporting process you have to inform the government and the public on the number, nature and impact of these problematic accounts.
Additionally, we are concerned that insufficient government oversight over your firm is inadvertently leading to deeper racial divisions and threats to our democracy. If Twitter continues to prove unable or hesitant to grasp the seriousness of this threat and combat the racialized climate that is being stimulated on your platforms, we, as Members of Congress, will be left with little option but to demand for increased regulations and government oversight of this industry to address these problems.

But, for the same reasons as with President Trump’s call to change the NFL’s tax treatment based on players’ symbolic expression related to the national anthem, this violates the First Amendment; you can read an analysis of that here. The First Amendment bars government officials from passing laws to censor allegedly, as Coleman and Cleaver put it, “racially divisive communications.” (I think it also protects American platforms that choose to host foreign speech, even about elections, but that’s a somewhat more disputable matter.) The First Amendment bars government officials from regulating media platforms even in ostensibly facially neutral ways because those platforms are allowing such viewpoints. And the First Amendment bars government officials from using the threat of retaliation to pressure media platforms to suppress speech.