Social Media, Freedom of Speech, and the Future of Our Democracy
Edited by Lee C. Bollinger and Geoffrey R. Stone
Oxford University Press, 2022, 448 pp.
The evolution of digital technology—especially of social media—threatens the freedoms of speech and of the press enshrined in the First Amendment. In this elegant volume, equally valuable to specialists and lay readers, two lifelong scholars of First Amendment jurisprudence gather an array of experts to explore the problems presented by digital technology and their possible solutions. The authors conclude that First Amendment law can adapt to this new technology as it has to new media in the past. Hate speech, conspiracy theories, and false and misleading information may be constitutionally protected, but placing limitations on the algorithms and artificial intelligence used to amplify such speech would be “content neutral,” hence constitutional. The authors also propose a way to modify, rather than revoke, the controversial Section 230 law that prevents online platforms from being held liable for the third-party content they publish. In the authors’ view, near-monopoly control by a few corporations, coupled with the system’s “perverse incentives” to avoid developing responsible standards, pose “extraordinary risks” to democracy. The rapid rate of technological change and the need for international coordination make workable regulation extremely difficult to design, but responsible reform, the authors conclude, is both possible and necessary.