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A Supreme Court Decision Could Have Implications for Social Media Free Speech

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One hundred life-sized cutouts of Facebook executive Mark Zuckerberg sit on the lawn of the United States Capitol on April 10th, 2018, in Washington, D.C.

The Supreme Court ruled on Monday that the First Amendment’s protection of free speech does not apply to a non-profit that runs a public access cable television station in New York City.

In a 5–4 decision, split between the conservative and liberal justices, the court ruled that the Manhattan Neighborhood Network could not face lawsuits for deciding not to air content that criticized it. Two individuals had sued the corporation for removing their film, claiming that doing so violated their free speech rights.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote on behalf of the majority that, while the First Amendment’s free speech clause applies to “state actors” or governmental entities, the network is a private entity, not a state actor: “Providing some kind of forum for speech is not an activity that only governmental entities have traditionally performed,” the decision reads. “Therefore, a private entity who provides a forum for speech is not transformed by that fact alone into a state actor.”

Although this case does not deal with social media explicitly, it could have considerable implications for the regulation of free speech on such platforms. Sites like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube provide forums for discussion, so if the First Amendment can’t be enforced against a private entity that provides a public forum, that may also be applied to social media sites.

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