Supreme Court Justice Thomas stokes debate over social media deplatforming

Conservatives have long expressed concern about perceived political bias on the part of major social media and tech firms.

Among the most prominent figures to weigh in on the issue is Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who has laid out his belief that a select group of private businesses wields too much power over what information Americans can access online.

“In the hands of private digital platforms”

Although the nation’s highest court threw out a case brought against former President Donald Trump for blocking certain Twitter users from his account, Thomas took the matter one step further in a written statement following the decision earlier this year.

He insisted that social media companies exert “unprecedented” and “concentrated control” over political speech, advocating for more government oversight in the matter.

Although Trump was clearly responsible for keeping “several people from interacting with his messages,” Thomas said that Twitter’s move to “remove him from the entire platform, thus barring all Twitter users from interacting with his messages” was too severe.

“As Twitter made clear, the right to cut off speech lies most powerfully in the hands of private digital platforms,” he added.

In response to such concerns, the long-serving conservative justice pointed to “two legal doctrines” that serve to “limit the right of a private company to exclude.”

“Serve all comers”

He cited the “common carriers” provision mandating that some companies “serve all comers” as well as laws forbidding “places of public accommodation” to deny service based on certain characteristics.

“The similarities between some digital platforms and common carriers or places of accommodation may give legislators strong arguments for similarly regulating digital platforms,” Thomas asserted.

Of course, Reason writer Damon Root recently opined that each of the justice’s arguments “has its faults,” noting that “today’s social media enterprises neither look nor act much like traditional common carriers” and that it is “not illegal (yet) to deny service based on a customer’s comments about politics, which is what Thomas is ultimately objecting to here.”

Nevertheless, Thomas maintained that action at some governmental level will be necessary to protect the First Amendment rights of all Americans, writing: “We will soon have no choice but to address how our legal doctrines apply to highly concentrated, privately owned information infrastructure such as digital platforms.”

Others have taken up the fight in recent months, including Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who signed a bill into law last month aimed at prohibiting social media platforms from banning politicians’ accounts.

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