Today, we’re publishing a new essay by Jack Balkin, “How to Regulate (and Not Regulate) Social Media.” Professor Balkin’s piece also marks the launch of the Knight Institute’s Occasional Papers series — an open-ended series of essays addressing urgent questions at the intersection of speech, privacy, and technology.
From the beginning, one of the main goals of our research program has been to create opportunities for scholars and experts to contribute to public understanding of how free expression does and should function in the digital age. Our past essay series, including Emerging Threats, Free Speech Futures, and Tech Giants, Monopoly Power, and Public Discourse, have showcased work by legal scholars and lawyers, economists, political scientists, technologists, historians, and philosophers. Many of the papers have been widely read, and some have had a real impact on public policy debates. To date, more than 30,000 people have accessed Mike Masnick’s essay "Protocols, Not Platforms," on our website, and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey credited the paper as he announced an effort to build an open, decentralized standard for social media. Tim Wu’s "Is the First Amendment Obsolete?" has been cited dozens of times in academic articles and the popular press. Evelyn Douek’s “The Rise of Content Cartels” has generated a lively debate over when and how large tech platforms should collaborate on the moderation and removal of particular kinds of content. Ethan Zuckerman’s "The Case for Digital Public Infrastructure," has kickstarted many conversations around building new alternative platforms for social media, search, and news online.
Through the Occasional Papers series, we’ll expand our efforts to bring to a broad audience thoughtful, provocative work from thinkers who usually write for more specialized audiences. The series will allow us to solicit and publish papers that don’t fit squarely within one of our longer-term projects. We are thrilled to be launching the series with this essay by Professor Balkin, the Knight Professor of Constitutional Law and the First Amendment at Yale Law School. Professor Balkin’s essay is an elegant synthesis of some of his many big ideas about regulating speech in the digital age, and a fantastic roadmap for anyone seeking to understand the wide range of questions and difficulties arising from efforts to change how we talk and share information on new communications platforms.
Katy Glenn Bass is the Knight Institute’s research director.