We should welcome new thinking on how social-media companies are treated in the law

I can understand a layman who looks at this situation and starts to agree with the right-wing critique that conservatives fail to conserve. There is something frankly masochistic about conservatives cheering, “This is what freedom is all about,” as their views are expunged from the public square by the emerging monopolies dominating it, under a statute written to combat pornographers.

There are two conservative principles in tension here. On the one side, there is freedom. If you think Facebook simply is a platform — no different from a rented stage, or a web server, or a single post on an Internet forum — then the argument for the status quo is very straightforward. The user is the speaker, and if that user says something that is legally actionable, it is the user and not Facebook that is responsible. Facebook should be free to reject and moderate its content the way that forum hosts or stage companies can reject a speaker outright, but should not be in any way considered an endorser of those speech acts.

But on the other side is responsibility. Facebook may exist within existing conventions of speech law. But its revenue is generated in this strange legal zone where it is able to profit from media-like content, while disclaiming all the difficult parts of traditional-media judgment. In this way, it offends the primordial conservative conviction that right and responsibility go together. The result, I think, is calamitous to our public square.