Guest post by Chris Sevier
Pretty much everyone on the Internet knows — despite what folks like Jack Dorsey and Mark Zuckerberg say — that big social media sites like Twitter and Facebook are doing whatever they can to silence certain political points of view.
Many seem to think this is justified, arguing that these are private companies and therefore have carte blanche to do whatever they want to whomever they want with little or no reason whatsoever. Worse yet, they claim, there’s nothing anyone can do except perhaps bend over and take it.
Not so fast.
In a sentence, social media websites are simply private businesses that are engaging in contracts and yes, they can be held liable for tortious conduct like breach of contract, fraudulent inducement, unjust enrichment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, bad faith, and unfair dealing, as I first noted here.
Right now, people who are being censored on Facebook feel powerless because it is too expensive to sue big social media companies, companies which, I might add, have limitless resources, even though they could. Plus, it is extremely difficult, if not downright impossible, to calculate damages, and also, it is unclear who would prevail because of the terms and conditions set by the social media website that were agreed upon when the user signed up.
However, state legislatures have jurisdiction to create a private right of action for certain kinds of violations. They can impose statutory damages and can also allow for injured parties to see attorney fees and costs.
The Stop Social Media Censorship Act does all of those things. The statutory damages part of the proposal sets statutory damages for political and religious censorship by social media websites that meet certain criteria at $75,000. That, by the way, is a magic number because it is the minimum jurisdictional limit which will give United States Federal District Courts subject matter jurisdiction over the controversies.
Lawyers will have a huge incentive to represent users of the offending websites who were censored because an employee at the site felt entitled to punish them for having a different religious or political worldview.
Social media websites like Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter induced hundreds of millions of subscribers to sign up because they were marketed as being religiously and politically neutral.
They marketed themselves as being an open place where all ideas that did not involve (1) immediate calls to violence or (2) obscenity were permissible. That turned out not to be true. Worse yet, the definitions of things like “hate speech” seem to change with the direction of the wind.
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But the truth is the censorship perpetrated by social media giants is per se bad faith and unfair dealing. The legislatures see that. They are putting a fine on such tortious wrong doing and breach.
I guess the employees at Big Social Media sites are going to have to wipe their noses and get their power trip fix from somewhere else because it is time to grow up. Unless of course, these sites want to be slapped with Federal causes of action that impose $75,000 fines.
- White House petition calls on Trump to press Congress for legislation stopping social media censorship
- Opinion: Silicon Valley tech giants like Facebook, Google now a direct threat to U.S. freedom, democracy
- New website lets users document Facebook censorship, abuse
- Analysis: Why Legislation is Needed to Stop Big Social Media Censorship
- South Carolina GOP Rep to introduce measure to stop social media censorship
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