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Noah Feldman

Twitter Trolls, Mallrats and the Future of Free Speech

This lawsuit poses a novel, but wrong, argument about social media as a public square.
This doesn't look like a mall.

This doesn't look like a mall.

Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Can Twitter Inc. lawfully block racists’ accounts? That’s the question posed in a lawsuit filed last week by Jared Taylor and his New Century Foundation, an organization that, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, “purports to show the inferiority of blacks to whites.”

The case goes to the very nature of speech on social media platforms. Taylor’s lawyers are arguing that Twitter is a virtual public square in which the First Amendment should apply. If that were so, not only Twitter but all social media would become subject to constitutional norms that usually only prohibit the government from restricting speech. The online world as we know it would be radically transformed. Social media sites would be unable to curb some of the most vile and dangerous postings.