Justice Clarence Thomas sounded off Monday concerning the outsized power social media companies like Twitter have, particularly in light of their complete ban of former President Donald Trump.
The Supreme Court issued an order dismissing a case as moot brought against Trump for blocking certain Twitter users from engaging with his tweets.
In 2019, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held that Trump’s Twitter account was in effect a “public forum” and the then-president violated the First Amendment by blocking the plaintiffs in the case.
Thomas couldn’t help noting in a concurring opinion to Monday’s Supreme Court order the lack of power Trump had to impact free speech on Twitter vis-à-vis the social media giant itself.
“It seems rather odd to say that something is a government forum when a private company has unrestricted authority to do away with it,” the justice wrote.
“The disparity between Twitter’s control and Mr. Trump’s control is stark, to say the least,” Thomas continued. “Mr. Trump blocked several people from interacting with his messages. Twitter barred Mr. Trump not only from interacting with a few users, but removed him from the entire platform, thus barring all Twitter users from interacting with his messages.”
Trump had 89 million followers at the time, Thomas pointed out.
“The Second Circuit feared that then-President Trump cut off speech by using the features that Twitter made available to him,” he wrote.
“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,” Thomas added.
“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.”
The justice argued in light of Big Tech’s broad power to impact free speech, the government is going to be forced to step in and regulate platforms such as Twitter as it had utilities like telephone companies in the past.
In the early 1980s, the federal government ordered the break up of AT&T’s then landline telephone service into seven so-called “Baby Bells.” The move came after the Justice Department had filed charges alleging the company was in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act, Investopedia reported.
“Today’s digital platforms provide avenues for historically unprecedented amounts of speech, including speech by government actors. Also unprecedented, however, is the concentrated control of so much speech in the hands of a few private parties,” Thomas contended.
“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.”
After describing the 45h president as racist, sexist, xenophobe and liar, Sanders told a New York Times podcast, “But if you’re asking me, do I feel particularly comfortable that the then-president of the United States could not express his views on Twitter? I don’t feel comfortable about that.”
“Yesterday it was Donald Trump who was banned, and tomorrow, it could be somebody else who has a very different point of view,” the senator said. “I don’t like giving that much power to a handful of high-tech people.”