I have long urged social-media companies to voluntarily adopt First Amendment–based moderation standards. The reasons that it should be voluntary are both constitutional and pragmatic. The First Amendment grants private organizations wide birth in formulating their content creation and moderation rules.
Pragmatically, a First Amendment standard not only helps protect viewpoint neutrality on matters far beyond politics, it also draws on centuries of American experience in protecting free expression while also protecting individuals from concrete harm (see, for example, the recent Oberlin verdict). And the voluntary nature of the program would allow each social-media company to tailor its framework to the company’s specific needs. Not all platforms have the same customer base or business model.
But this requires persuasion, not coercion. And when coercion locks in — especially when that coercion is tied to constitutionally suspect broad and vague policies that delegate immense powers to the federal government — conservatives should sound the alarm. One of the best ways to evaluate the merits of legislation is to ask yourself whether the bill would still seem wise if the power you give the government were to end up in the hands of your political opponents. Is Hawley striking a blow for freedom if he ends up handing oversight of Facebook’s political content to Bernie Sanders? I think not.