A new law takes effect on Saturday in New York that supposedly targets hateful speech online. But it may not last long, because the state just got hit with a First Amendment lawsuit that could bring about the demise of its new regulation.
The law in question is called “Social media networks; hateful conduct prohibited.” It targets internet platforms and mandates that they publish a policy outlining how they handle “hateful” content. It defines “hateful conduct” as online speech that serves to “vilify, humiliate, or incite violence against a group or a class of persons” on the basis of protected characteristics.
The law mandates that internet platforms address reports of such content. Companies that fail to do so face fines of up to $1,000 per day.
But what about companies that don’t want to play speech-police on their platforms?
Well, the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) is suing New York on behalf of independent content platforms Rumble and Locals as well as legal blogger Eugene Volokh.
“New York politicians are slapping a speech-police badge on my chest because I run a blog,” plaintiff Eugene Volokh, co-founder of the Volokh Conspiracy blog, said. “I started the blog to share interesting and important legal stories, not to police readers’ speech at the government’s behest.”
The law’s text says it shouldn’t be construed to infringe on anyone’s free speech rights, but FIRE says its policy mandates are themselves a violation of the First Amendment.
“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.”
Meanwhile, it’s not clear what, if any, good this law would actually accomplish. It seems like little more than an attempt to cajole companies and platforms into further censoring speech disfavored by progressives.
Here’s hoping it meets its demise in court. But that won’t be the end of the story.
Unfortunately, this law seems like it’s just one piece of a broader pattern wherein New York’s state government hopes to wage war on “hateful” speech—even though it’s constitutionally protected. Don’t forget that the governor, Kathy Hochul, falsely claimed that “hate speech” isn’t protected by the First Amendment. Meanwhile, New York Attorney General Letitia James has proposed a variety of regulations seeking to clamp down on ideas the government has deemed harmful.
So, no matter how this case turns out, it’s clear that the legal battle between those who believe in free speech and those who want to suppress it is just beginning.
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