Social media companies are monopolies and enjoy unchecked power. The party may be over for them sooner rather than later, however.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas predicted that Big Tech will have a reckoning soon, Breitbart reported. In a concurrent opinion on a case involving former President Donald Trump, Thomas noted the significant role of social which may ultimately require their power scaled back.
“We will soon have no choice but to address how our legal doctrines apply to highly concentrated, privately owned information infrastructure such as digital platforms,” Thomas wrote. The comments were part of an opinion on an appeal case over whether it was Constitutional for former President Donald Trump to block his critics.
Trump is now out of office making the case moot, but the question as to the nature of a social media platform is yet to be answered. Thomas sees this as an issue coming down the pike given the role the platform — and the company’s leaders — have recently used.
The rationale for disallowing the former president to block users was that he was using social media for public policy discourse, making Twitter a de facto public forum that granted users First Amendment protections, Fox News reported. However, the company had total control to block all users which contradicted that rationale used by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.
“[I]t seems rather odd to say that something is a government forum when a private company has unrestricted authority to do away with it,” Thomas wrote in his opinion. He further noted that it is typically the “government’s control over that space” that confers the First Amendment protections which is something that didn’t happen with the social media company.
“The Second Circuit feared that then-President Trump cut off speech by using the features that Twitter made available to him,” Thomas added. “But if the aim is to ensure that speech is not smothered, then the more glaring concern must perforce be the dominant digital platforms themselves. 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.”
Many are worried about the power social media companies have in the public discourse, and Thomas is correct that the courts may need to decide what happens from here. Although Trump was taken to task for blocking users, he ultimately was thrown off the platform completely while still a sitting president — and that massive power was in the hands of a private company.