Practical and Legal Ways to Deal with Social Media Blackouts

Freedom of speech is a simple concept. Think Ben Franklin and his printing press. Social media is little more than a modern day Franklin permitting citizens an opportunity to state their opinions in a daily newspaper for free. Since today’s Franklin owns the paper, ink and printing press, the law permits him to decline to publish the opinions of those with whom he disagrees. End of story?

Not so fast. Since modern social media publishing piggy backs off of radio signals owned by the public couldn’t the government step in and “regulate” and set strict criteria for blocking ideas not welcomed by the owner of a media site? Sure. But would government end up further restricting free speech? Though a well-crafted narrow limitation, i.e. “media outlets may only limit speech explicitly calling for physical violence”, might be enacted to throttle social media publisher efforts to limit speech, bureaucratic “regulators” could abuse regulatory power and expand the definition of speech that could be suppressed. Slopes can quickly become slippery.

What about a law that, instead of regulating social media sites through a cumbersome government regulatory agency, simply permits a person who has their speech blacked out for an illegitimate reason to sue in court for liquidated damages? This might be very effective. A law may work very well that says:

“… any person who has been refused or restricted in their freedom to post to social media which utilizes public radio frequencies for any reason other than for speech explicitly calling for physical violence (or disseminating violent images), may sue for an injunction to compel the unrestricted dissemination of such speech, as well as liquidated damages of $100,000.00 per day per violation”.

Such a law would be self-enforcing. The person seeking to enforce the law would have “skin in the game” because it would cost money to pursue the remedy. But if the “bite” is significant, media sites would be hesitant to arbitrarily shut down speech, or shadow ban speech.

But what can people who fear being blocked legally do as a means of self-help given that no laws as described above currently exist? Here are some thoughts:

1) Social media opinion-maker-stars who thrive on posting and who fear being blocked could buy their own modern-day newspaper. They could invest in their own domain name and make sure that name is widely known, and set up a website with a host that will not block them. Then if a block on a social media site occurs a platform exists for their followers to seek them out.

2) Social media stars could be more social. They could follow back all their followers and encourage all followers to in turn follow other followers. This could make it much more difficult to shut down or isolate people who are well interconnected. What attracts people in some part to social media is that they can keep their followers at arm’s length. There is an illusion of being connected, but phone numbers and email addresses are not shared. This lack of sharing leaves the opinion makers vulnerable to the media publishing company’s blocking. For example, sharing of email could make newsletter dissemination of opinions via email very difficult to stop especially if the recipient signs up for the opinions.

Hopefully this post will encourage brainstorming and lead to a workable, cost-effective solution to the hazard of social media blackouts.

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