What’s In a Name?: Common Carriage, Social Media, and the First Amendment
Courts and legislatures have suggested that classifying social media as common carriers would make restrictions on their right to exclude users more constitutionally permissible under the First Amendment. A review of the relevant statutory definitions reveals that the statutes provide no support for classifying social media as common carriers. Moreover, the fact that a legislature may apply a label to a particular actor plays no significant role in the constitutional analysis. A further review of the elements of the common law definition of common carrier reveals that four of the purported criteria (whether the industry is affected with a public interest, whether the social media companies possess monopoly power, whether they are involved in the transportation and communication industries, and whether social media companies received compensating benefits) do not apply to social media and do not affect the application of the First Amendment. The only legitimate common law basis (whether an actor holds itself out as serving all members of the public without engaging in individualized bargaining) would again seem inapplicable to social media and have little bearing on the First Amendment. The weakness of these arguments suggests that advocates for limiting social media’s freedom to decide which voices to carry are attempting to gain some vague benefit from associating their efforts with common carriage’s supposed historical pedigree to avoid having to undertake the case-specific analysis demanded by the First Amendment’s established principles.