Social Media as "Common Carrier?"

Under U.S. law, the principle of "common carriage" limits companies like railroads, phone companies, and internet service providers from discriminating among those who wish to make use of their services – but what about social media? Given the power and importance of companies like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, can they be considered Common Carriers under American law? We ask tech law professor Eric Goldman to explain.

According to Professor Goldman, while the legal concept of a Common Carrier is a venerable legal tradition, it has not been effectively applied to companies that operate businesses on the internet. Moreover, social media companies can rely on the powerful protections of the First Amendment's free speech and free press rights to permit it to discriminate amongst users or to remove content and accounts at their discretion. That said, some states are now attempting to force the connection by the passage of "social media censurship" laws. Goldman weighs in on these "must carry" laws and their constitutional significance.

Prof. Eric Goldman is a Professor of Law at Santa Clara University School of Law in the Silicon Valley. He also serves as the associate dean of research and co-directs the High Tech Law Institute.

Additional Resources

Senate Bill 7072 – example of state "must carry" law passed in Florida

The Law of Deplatforming – an interview with Prof. Eric Goldman