András Koltay

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Social media platforms have overturned the previously known system of public communication. As predicted at the outset, the spread of the public Internet that started three decades ago has resulted in a paradigm shift in this field. Now, anyone can publish their opinion outside the legacy media, at no significant cost, and can become known and be discussed by others. Due to the technological characteristics of the Internet, it might also be expected that this kind of mass expression, with such an abundance of content, would necessitate the emergence of gatekeepers, similar in function to the ones that existed earlier for conventional media. The newsagent, post office, and cable or satellite services have been replaced by the Internet service provider, the server (host) provider and the like. However, no one could have foreseen that the new gatekeepers of online communication would not only be neutral transmitters or repositories but also active shapers of the communication process, deciding on which user content on the Internet they deemed undesirable and deciding which content, out of all the theoretically accessible content, is actually displayed to individual users. Content filtering, deleting, blocking, suspending, and ranking are all types of active interference with the exercise of users’ freedom of speech and practices which also affect the interests of other users in obtaining information. All this became an even greater and more difficult-to-manage issue when, in certain sub-markets of the Internet, certain giant tech companies’ services gained a monopoly or came close to doing so. This process has emerged in connection with gatekeepers of a specific type: the most important online platforms (social media, video sharing, search engines, web stores). In this way, a new, unexpected obstacle to the exercise of freedom of speech appeared, with the result that the earlier constitutional doctrines could no longer be applied without any change. The crux of the problem is that the platforms are privately owned. In formal terms, they are simply market players which are not bound by the guarantees of freedom of speech imposed on public bodies and which may enjoy the protection of freedom of speech themselves.