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Debates
March 4, 2019
Constitutional Free Speech Principles Can Save Social Media Companies from Themselves
Constitutional Free Speech Principles Can Save Social Media Companies From Themselves

How should the world’s largest social media companies respond to a pernicious online climate, including hate speech and false content posted by users? For some, the answer is clear: take the fake and offensive content down. But for others, censorship – even by a private company – is dangerous in a time when digital platforms have become the new public square and many Americans cite Facebook and Twitter as their primary news sources. Rather than embracing European hate speech laws or developing platform-specific community standards that are sometimes seen as partisan, they argue, social media companies should voluntarily adopt the First Amendment and block content only if it violates American law. Should First Amendment doctrine govern free speech online? Or are new, more internationally focused speech policies better equipped to handle the modern challenges of regulating content and speech in the digital era?

Post-Debate
Winner

Against The Motion
59 %
36 %
For The Motion
5 %
Undecided
Pre-Debate
For The Motion
38 %
35 %
Undecided
27 %
Against The Motion
Breakdown
Against The Motion
23% - Remained For the Against Side
16% - Swung From the For Side
20% - Swung From Undecided
For The Motion
4% - Swung From the Against Side
21% - Remained For the For Side
11% - Swung From Undecided
Undecided
0% - Swung From the Against Side
1% - Swung From the For Side
4% - Remained Undecided
Post-Debate
Winner

For the Motion
62 %
33 %
Against the Motion
5 %
Undecided
Pre-Debate
For the Motion
52 %
33 %
Against the Motion
14 %
Undecided
Breakdown
For the Motion
5% - Swung From the Against Side
48% - Remained For the For Side
10% - Swung From Undecided
Against the Motion
29% - Remained For the Against Side
5% - Swung From the For Side
0% - Swung From Undecided
Undecided
0% - Swung From the Against Side
0% - Swung From the For Side
5% - Remained Undecided
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Looking Through a Constitutional Lens
National Constitution Center president Jeffrey Rosen sets the stage for a debate on the First Amendment and social media.
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Content Moderation
Corynne McSherry, legal director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, argues that current content moderation systems on social media platforms aren’t working.
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Censorship
Stanford Law’s Nate Persily and the EFF’s Corynne McSherry go head-to-head on censorship, social media, and the First Amendment.
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Real Fake News
IQ2US host John Donvan asks the EFF’s Corynne McSherry about regulating fake news on social media platforms.
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Algorithms
MEP Marietje Schaake argues that social media algorithms are extremely influential.
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Around the World
MEP Marietje Schaake and National Review’s David French debate the motives behind censorship in other countries.
About The Debaters
For The Motion
An image of David French
David French − Senior Writer, National Review
David French is a senior writer for the National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, an... read bio
An image of Corynne McSherry
Corynne McSherry − Legal Director, Electronic Frontier Foundation
Corynne McSherry is the legal director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, specializing in intellectual property,... read bio
Against The Motion
An image of Nathaniel Persily
Nathaniel Persily − Professor, Stanford Law
Nate Persily is a professor at Stanford Law School and the director of the Stanford Project on Democracy and the... read bio
An image of Marietje Schaake
Marietje Schaake − Dutch Politician & Member, European Parliament
Marietje Schaake is a Dutch politician and has been serving as a member of the European Parliament since 2009. She... read bio
Main Points
For The Motion
  • The First Amendment is content-neutral and provides a nonpolitical framework for regulating speech. It would behoove social media companies to abide by it.
  • Rather than resort to censorship, social media companies can offer users tools that block unwanted content, including content that could be hurtful or offensive.
  • Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms have become the new public square. Rather than resorting to corporate speech policies, these companies should promote free speech principles in the U.S. and abroad.
Against The Motion
  • Social media companies are global. The U.S. Constitution is based on American values and, therefore, should not be used to regulate international platforms.
  • The spread of hateful digital content dilutes meaningful discourse and, in some cases, causes emotional and physical harm. Social media companies have a duty to offer safe, welcoming platforms for users.
  • From election interference to “fake news,” nefarious actors are using social media to undermine democracies and deepen partisan divides. Social media companies must act to prevent this type of conduct.