Knight Institute Raises Concerns Regarding DOJ Scrutiny of Social Media Companies

September 05, 2018

The Department of Justice today announced that Attorney General Jeff Sessions has convened a meeting with a number of state attorney generals this month to scrutinize social media companies. In its statement, the DOJ expressed its concern that social media companies may be “intentionally stifling the free exchange of ideas on their platforms.”

The following statement is attributable to Alex Abdo, senior staff attorney at the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University:

“Social media platforms shape public discourse in profoundly important and poorly understood ways. We urgently need to better understand how the platforms operate, how they determine what information users see, and with what effect on society. That said, the Department of Justice’s recent announcement that it will scrutinize whether social media platforms are stifling free speech is troubling. There has been no allegation that the social media companies have violated the law in handling the speech on their platforms, and thus no apparent reason for the DOJ to become involved. The DOJ’s intervention here appears to be an attack on free speech, not a defense of it.”

Last month, the Knight Institute sent a letter to Facebook asking it to amend its terms of service to establish a “safe harbor” for public-interest journalism and research focused on Facebook’s platform. In its letter, the Institute noted that Facebook “influences public discourse in ways that are not fully understood by the public,” and that “journalists and researchers play a crucial role in illuminating this influence.”