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Social media must share same protections and responsibilities as other media

Online social media companies have a fundamental right to publish what they wish without pre-publication censorship or interference on behalf of local, state or federal governments.

Just as the Second Amendment, written in an era of flintlock muskets, applies to today’s modern rifles and semi-automatic handguns, the First Amendment’s guarantees to the freedom of speech and of the press are not tied to the technology of the time.

The programming behind a social media platform has no moral difference from the web offset press used to print this newspaper.

Just as with newspapers and other forms of media, those who object to what is, or is not, included within the publication standards of the private business are welcome to start up their own media outlets to compete with the free market determining the victors.

This point has eluded lawmakers in Florida and Texas who want to dictate to the private social media companies what they can and cannot allow to be published on their sites. Specifically, they don’t want these private online publishers to be able to restrict lies, misinformation and foreign propaganda from being published and spread across their platforms.

There is a particular type of hypocrisy in the entire argument given that the majority party in the states with these laws have a long-held tradition of opposing unnecessary government interference in private businesses, but seem all too eager to use over-reaching regulations when it comes to supporting their own agendas.

Lawyers for these states and briefs filed in support of their positions, compare online publishers to being the conduit of information no different than telephone lines or airplanes.

Were this a discussion over laws regarding the mechanics of transmission of data over fiber optic cables, beamed from satellites, or carried by courier pigeon their argument may have a glimmer of validity. Their fallacy becomes evident because just as newspaper editors aggregate, sort, summarize, prioritize and sell advertising around information in print publications, so to do the various programming tools, moderators and algorithms used by social media publishers.

Just because one product is in print and another is a visual display on a computer or cellphone screen doesn’t strip away the fundamental prohibition against governments meddling in the media.

At the same time as social media companies must enjoy the First Amendment protections of other media, they must be held accountable for what they publish.

Social media companies must be held by the courts to the same standards as print and broadcast media in regard to libel, inciting violence against individuals, or aiding in the commission of criminal acts.

Social media companies need to be held accountable for what is published on their networks, just as newspapers are held accountable for what appears on our pages.

The U.S. Supreme Court must establish that social media companies are the equivalent of other media companies with the same protections and the same responsibilities.

The Central Wisconsin Publications Editorial Board consists of publisher Kris O’Leary and editor Brian Wilson.