What to Do About the Emerging Threat of Censorship Creep on the Internet

Cato Institute Policy Analysis No. 828, Nov. 28, 2017

U of Maryland Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2018-07

13 Pages Posted: 7 Mar 2018

Date Written: November 28, 2017

Abstract

Popular tech companies — Google, Facebook, Twitter, and others — have strongly protected free speech online, a policy widely associated with the legal norms of the United States. American tech companies, however, operate globally, and their platforms are subject to regulation by the European Union, whose member states offer less protection to expression than does the United States. European regulators are pressuring tech companies to control and suppress extreme speech. The regulators’ clear warning is that, if the companies do not comply “voluntarily,” they will face harsher laws and potential liability. This regulatory effort runs the risk of censorship creep, whereby a wide array of protected speech, including political criticism and newsworthy content, may end up being removed from online platforms on a global scale. European regulators cannot be expected to pull back and adopt U.S. norms for speech. The tech company leaders may, however, reduce the risks to free speech by insisting on clear definitions of “hate speech,” holding regulators accountable before the public, fostering detailed transparency of government actions, and appointing ombudsmen.

Keywords: free speech, internet platforms, social media, European Union, first amendment, censorship creep, hate speech, hashing, extremist speech, terms of service agreements, public-private partnerships, government overreach, transparency report

Suggested Citation

Citron, Danielle Keats, What to Do About the Emerging Threat of Censorship Creep on the Internet (November 28, 2017). Cato Institute Policy Analysis No. 828, Nov. 28, 2017, U of Maryland Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2018-07, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3135471

Danielle Keats Citron (Contact Author)

University of Virginia School of Law ( email )

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