New York Law Silences Online Speech
New York has passed an illegal state law that forces social media platforms to target constitutionally protected speech. The law went into effect in New York State this past weekend. But if you kill, rape or rob someone you will still NOT be charged and be free to walk the streets to continue your crime spree.
This is a full frontal assault on our first amendment rights. Bloggers, commenters, websites, and apps around the country are ensnared by the New York law due to its broad definition of “social media networks” as for-profit “service providers” that “enable users to share any content.”
Everything, everywhere, all at once.
Refusal to comply could mean investigations from the attorney general’s office, subpoenas, and daily fines of $1,000 per violation.
This will shut us all down.
“The principle of free speech is not concerned with the content of a man speech and does not protect only the expression of good ideas, but all ideas. If it were otherwise who would determine which ideas are good and which have been? The government?” (Ayn Rand)
The law forces a wide variety of internet platforms to publish a policy explaining how they will respond to online expression that could be perceived to “vilify, humiliate, or incite violence” based on a protected class, like religion, gender, or race. The law does not define “vilify,” “humiliate,” or “incite,” meaning it would cover constitutionally protected speech like jokes, satire, political debates, and other online commentary. The law also requires platforms to create a way for visitors to complain about “hateful content” and mandates that they answer complaints with a direct response. Refusal to comply could mean investigations from the Attorney General’s office, subpoenas, and daily fines of $1,000 per violation.
Eugene Volkoh: So the law will mandate that I post publicly my policy for responding to comments that “vilify, humiliate, or incite violence against a group” based on “race, color, religion, ethnicity, national origin, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.” It also requires that I give readers a way to complain about my blog’s content and obligates me to respond directly. I don’t want to moderate such content and I don’t endorse the state’s definition of hate speech. Still, I’m being conscripted. By obligating me to do the state’s bidding with regard to viewpoints that New York condemns, the law violates the First Amendment (Wall Street Journal). National Review: The response to this from any self-respecting American must be no less than, “Oh yeah — how about you shove it?” What the private owners of social networks, blogs, message boards, and so forth choose to do with their users’ content is up to them, not to the State of New York — or any other government (National Review).
Freedom of speech is the foundation of a free society. Without it, a tyrant can wreak havoc unopposed, while his opponents are silenced.
Putting up with being offended is essential in a pluralistic society in which people differ on basic truths. If a group will not bear being offended without resorting to violence, that group will rule unopposed while everyone else lives in fear, while other groups curtail their activities to appease the violent group. This results in the violent group being able to tyrannize the others.
If speech that offends a group is outlawed, that group has absolute power, and a free society is destroyed. A group that cannot be criticized cannot be opposed. It can work its will no matter what it is, and no one will be able to say anything to stop it.
Inoffensive speech needs no protection. The First Amendment was developed precisely in order to protect speech that was offensive to some, in order to prevent those who had power from claiming they were offended by speech opposing them and silencing the powerless.
A free society is by its nature one in which people put up with others being uncivil and offensive. The alternative is a quiet authoritarian society in which only one opinion is allowed and the others are silenced, and ultimately sent to the camps.
LAWSUIT: New York can’t target protected online speech by calling it ‘hateful conduct.’
The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression sued New York Attorney General Letitia James, challenging a new state law that forces websites and apps to address online speech that someone, somewhere finds humiliating or vilifying.
The law is titled “Social media networks; hateful conduct prohibited,” but it actually targets speech the state doesn’t like — even if that speech is fully protected by the First Amendment.
“New York politicians are slapping a speech-police badge on my chest because I run a blog,” said plaintiff Eugene Volokh, who co-founded The Volokh Conspiracy legal blog in 2002. “I started the blog to share interesting and important legal stories, not to police readers’ speech at the government’s behest.”
The law forces internet platforms of all stripes to publish a policy explaining how they will respond to online expression that could “vilify, humiliate, or incite violence” based on a protected class, like religion, gender, or race. The law also requires the platforms to create a way for visitors to complain about “hateful” content or comments, and mandates that they answer complaints with a direct response. Refusal to comply could mean investigations from the attorney general’s office, subpoenas, and daily fines of $1,000 per violation.
New York’s law doesn’t define “vilify,” “humiliate,” or “incite.” Yet, it targets speech that could simply be perceived by someone, somewhere, at some point in time, to vilify or humiliate, rendering the law’s scope entirely subjective. (The First Amendment does not protect inciting imminent violence, but New York’s law offers no indication, as the First Amendment requires, that it applies only to speech directed to and likely to produce imminent lawless action.)
What expression could the new law reach? Plenty of speech fully protected by the First Amendment, including but not at all limited to:
An atheist’s post “vilifying” people of faith by criticizing religion.
A posted video of John Oliver “humiliating” the British people by criticizing the monarchy.
A comedian’s blog entry “vilifying” men by mocking gender stereotypes.
A post about Kathy Griffin “humiliating” Christians by shouting “Suck it, Jesus, this award is my God now!” at an awards show.
Your comment on almost any website that could be considered by someone, somewhere, at some point in time, as “humiliating” or “vilifying” a group based on protected class status like religion, gender, or race.
“The state of New York can’t turn bloggers into Big Brother, but it’s trying to do just that,” said FIRE attorney Daniel Ortner. “The government can’t burden online expression protected by the Constitution, whether it’s doing it in the name of combating hate or any other sentiment. Imagine a similar law requiring sites to publish a reporting policy for speech the state considers un-American — that would be just as unconstitutional.”
Volokh, a constitutional law professor and First Amendment expert, is joined in the lawsuit by online platforms Rumble and Locals, which are, respectively, a video platform similar to YouTube, and a community-building platform that allows creators to connect directly with their audience.
Bloggers, commenters, websites, and apps around the country are ensnared by the New York law due to its broad definition of “social media networks” as for-profit “service providers” that “enable users to share any content.” This vague wording means that the law can impact virtually any revenue-generating website that allows comments or posts and is accessible to New Yorkers — but no government entity can legally compel blogs or other internet platforms to adopt its broad definition of “hateful conduct.”
A recent report issued by Attorney General James’ office shows this law may be just the start of Empire State lawmaker’s attempt to silence protected speech online.