The ‘Monster’ That Ate Social Networking?

Cyberspace Law: Censorship and Regulation of the Internet (Travis ed., Routledge 2013); ISBN: 978-0415630313

Florida International University Legal Studies Research Paper No. 19-09

22 Pages Posted: 29 Mar 2019 Last revised: 10 Apr 2019

See all articles by Hannibal Travis

Hannibal Travis

Florida International University College of Law

Date Written: March 2019


This chapter analyzes the privacy, intellectual property, competition policy, and human rights law implications of the rise of Facebook and the threat of a natural monopoly in social networking. Facebook instructed its users that it may provide friend lists and other profile information to third parties, as well as to law enforcement when it thinks public safety is at issue. The service warned users that it may disclose information without permission, but with “notice, such as by telling you about it in [a data use] policy.” In 2009, Facebook announced the settlement of a class-action lawsuit brought on behalf of users of Facebook as of November 2007, which involved privacy violations. Facebook subsequently became embroiled in patent litigation, democratization movements, and the mass surveillance of unsuspecting users, and this chapter briefly surveys its role in these controversies.

The book in which it appears explores what the American Civil Liberties Union calls the ‘third era’ in cyberspace, in which filters "fundamentally alter the architectural structure of the Internet, with significant implications for free speech." Although courts and nongovernmental organizations increasingly insist upon constitutional and other legal guarantees of a freewheeling Internet, multinational corporations compete to produce tools and strategies for making it more predictable. When Google attempted to improve our access to information contained in books and the World Wide Web, copyright litigation began to tie up the process of making content searchable, and resulted in the wrongful removal of access to thousands if not millions of works. Just as the courts were insisting that using trademarks online to criticize their owners is First Amendment-protected speech, corporations and trade associations accelerated their development of ways to make Internet companies liable for their users’ infringing words and actions, potentially circumventing free speech rights. Finally, as social networking and content-sharing sites have proliferated, so have content-detecting tools for finding, flagging, and deleting content that makes one or another corporation or trade association fear for its image or profits.

The book provides a legal history of Internet regulation since the mid-1990s, with a particular focus on efforts by patent, trademark, and copyright owners to compel Internet firms to monitor their online offerings and remove or pay for any violations of the rights of others.

Keywords: First Amendment, privacy, cybersecurity sharing, Federal Trade Commission, Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Google Plus, YouTube, democratization, protests, economic sanctions, human rights, mass surveillance, freedom of expression

JEL Classification: K13, K20, K21

Suggested Citation

Travis, Hannibal, The ‘Monster’ That Ate Social Networking? (March 2019). Cyberspace Law: Censorship and Regulation of the Internet (Travis ed., Routledge 2013); ISBN: 978-0415630313 , Florida International University Legal Studies Research Paper No. 19-09, Available at SSRN:

Hannibal Travis (Contact Author)

Florida International University College of Law ( email )

11200 SW 8th St.
RDB Hall 1097
Miami, FL 33199
United States

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