Research and Commentary: New York Senate Wants Clear Terms of Services from Social Media Companies

Published June 29, 2024

The emergence of social media has elevated political dialogue and discourse to a breadth nearly unimaginable a decade ago. When originally developed, these emerging technologies and mediums made the democratization of free speech possible.

However, this mass communication network is managed by a handful of large techology firms that are protected from liability and functionally operate as monopolies. The consolidation of public discourse control amongst these firms has now effectively muted the speech of millions of Americans. Though social media platforms have empowered people across the political spectrum, they have also galvanized those who seek to divide, misinform, and manipulate the public.

According to the Pew Research Center, roughly three-quarters of U.S. adults believe it is likely social media platforms intentionally censor opinions and viewpoints that do not fall in line with Big Tech’s preferred ideology and political positions. This belief was corroborated with the release of the Twitter Files which showed us that these social media companies were more than happy to get into bed and coordinate with the government to promote certain agendas and narratives. 

The New York State Senate is working through Senate Bill 895, legislation that would amend the general business law to require social media companies to disclose their terms of service in a manner designed to inform all users of the terms of services and any updates thereafter. 

Understanding the terms of services—which are so often cited as the reason for censoring and deplatforming users—would help clarify what constitutes accepted speech on these social media platforms. 

This solution merely scratches the surface of eliminating Big Tech censorship and the suppression of free speech on social media platforms, but it is still a paramount step in expecting higher levels of accountability from social media companies.

Big Tech has long been insulated from liability because they claim to be mere platforms. Yet, these platforms operate in a blatant editorial capacity. Forcing these companies to explicitly spell out what their terms and services mean for each individual user will strategically position them in a way that makes any editing and censoring come with clear explanations.  

Senate Bill 895 should also continue a state-based and national debate on the role of Big Tech in our civic discourse. Allowing citizens to understand the ever-fluid terms of services for social media companies to avoid being censored is a tool policymakers can give to the citizens of New York. This will ensure New Yorkers know that their public debate is sacrosanct. Any action or lack thereof to maintain a vigorous debate will be met with hard questions.

As SB 895 continues to move through the legislative process, I implore the members of the New York Senate to consider the clear solutions this bill would create. After all, Big Tech ideologues wield near-total power over the dissemination of information in today’s social media-dominated environment, and more speech, not less speech, is always better in a free society.

The following document provides more information about big tech censorship principles. 

Six Principles for State Legislators Seeking to Protect Free Speech on Social Media Platforms

James Taylor, president of The Heartland Institute, writes six principles to protect free speech in light of social media censorship. Political free speech in the United States is under attack. Tech media giants who own and control virtually all social media platforms available to Americans are working together to silence groups with whom they do not agree. 

Why Big Tech Censorship Is Super Scary

Samantha Fillmore, senior state government relations manager at The Hartland Institute, writes about the dangers of censorship in a free society in this op-ed.

Pew Research Center: Most Americans Think Social Media Sites Censor Political Viewpoints

The Pew Research Center studied the role of technology and technology companies in Americans’ lives. This study was conducted to understand Americans’ views about the role of major technology companies in the political landscape. Majorities in both major parties believe censorship is likely occurring.

New Poll: 75% Don’t Trust Social Media to Make Fair Content Moderation Decisions, 60% Want More Control over Posts They See

The Cato Institute surveyed 2,000 Americans regarding social media’s use of censorship and contact moderation. The survey finds that 75% of Americans do not trust social media companies to make a fair content moderation decisions and would prefer that social media companies provide users with a greater choice and control over the content they are delivered in their feeds.

The First Amendment Does Not Prohibit the Government From Addressing Big Tech Censorship, by Brendan Carr and Nathan Simington

The Yale Journal on Regulation takes up the Supreme Court case between Texas House Bill 20 and NetChoice – the lobbying group for online social media platforms. Brendan Carr and Nathan Simington of The Yale Journal on Regulation contend that NetChoice’s argument of unconstitutionality against the Texas Bill conflict severely with Supreme Court First Amendment precedence.

The Twitter Files

The Twitter files are a series of leaked internal documents from Twitter, Inc. These files were published from December 2022 through March 2023 on the platform by journalist Matt Taibbi. The Twitter files revealed several things most notably, the collusion between the federal government and social media companies, specifically on the issue of censorship. It was found that through selected censorship the federal government aimed to control the narrative on the social media platform.

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Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this and other topics, visit the Budget & Tax News website, The Heartland Institute’s website, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database.

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