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Internet Referral Programs Are in Urgent Need of Reform

Last week, a federal district court barred certain government agencies from working with social media companies for “the purpose of urging, encouraging, pressuring, or inducing in any manner the removal, deletion, suppression, or reduction of content containing protected free speech.” The court decision raises vital First Amendment issues, but its vague and ad hoc injunction threats vital government referral programs.

The district court’s decision should serve as a wakeup call to the executive branch, Congress, and social media companies that these government programs, valuable as they are, have operated too long without an adequate system of procedural protections. Policymakers should act quickly to make sure these programs both protect the public from online information threats and prevent government abuse of social media companies and online users.

An essential first step is transparency.  Government agencies should be required to disclose what content they referred to social media companies and why.  Social media companies should disclose what they did in response to this contact and why.  Independent researchers should have full access to these reports and underlying data so they can undertake independent assessments of these activities. In this way, the public, policymakers and reviewing courts will have a better understanding of whether these programs avoid coercion and partisanship.

Read the full article published on the Brookings TechTank Platform here.

Request a consultation with Dr. Mark MacCarthy here to discuss your organization’s interests in the impact of internet referral programs and other tech regulation. 

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