Regulating Social Media Companies as Common Carriers Would Undermine User Experience Online

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The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) published a new paper today making the case against regulating social media platforms as common carriers. In Don’t Confuse the Platform with the Train: The Case Against Regulating Social Media Companies as Common Carriers, co-authors Dan Greenberg and Jessica Melugin make the case that government encroachment on speech, property, and economic liberty are the wrong way to deal with widespread frustration about content moderation decisions on the part of social media companies.

Unhappiness on both the political left and right with content moderation decisions has led to calls for increased government regulation of social media platforms in recent years. Advocates on the left constantly pressure social media companies to remove posts from users they claim (often disingenuously) are engaged in spreading what they deem “misinformation.” Many on the right claim conservative views are disproportionally targeted for removal, hidden, or deemphasized based on social media companies’ bias.

Some have called for revoking certain social media companies’ liability protections under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. But many on the right who have expressed support for such a move now realize stripping liability protections would lead to platforms removing more speech than they do currently, not less. This realization has led to increasing calls to regulate social media companies as “common carriers,” examples of which include phone companies, railroads, and package delivery services.

Entities declared common carriers are generally disallowed from excluding customers or users who want to buy their services and are not allowed to discriminate, in that they offer the same services at the same price to everyone. Regulating social media platforms as common carriers would require them to host the speech of anyone who wants to use its service. While, in theory, this would force regulated platforms to carry more, rather than less, content, it would also force them to carry pornography, violence, spam, and other objectionable material.

“Common carrier regulation will turn existing dynamic platforms into passive, regulated entities that are significantly less valuable, useful, and enjoyable for consumers,” said Greenberg. “If platforms cannot curate their sites to distinguish themselves from competitors—as nearly all do currently—how do they create value?”

“Making nearly all objectionable content mandatory for platforms to carry would likely drive users away from platforms altogether, fundamentally undermining their business model. Such a mass exit would decrease the social communication that is the central reason for the consumption and use of social media,” said Melugin. “That unintended consequence is precisely the opposite of the supporters of regulation’s stated goal—the preservation and flourishing of freedom of expression online.”

Read the paper at