Seth Oranburg

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Lately, people have been finding giant pet goldfish in lakes across America. You may see these tiny fish swimming in bowls at the county fair, but left alone in a lake or large pond, where they are dropped perhaps by a well-meaning child, they can grow to 20 pounds or more—and destroy ecosystems. The goldfish is a cautionary tale that has been told time and again in different forms, like Pandora’s box.

On January 6, 2021, a somewhat organized group of rioters overran and briefly took control of the U.S. Capitol. Social media clearly played a role in the riots at the Capitol that occurred on January 6, 2021. Those riots were deeply troubling for all who love America and the freedoms for which it stands. But the reactions by corporations to cancel social media accounts and even entire social media platforms is troubling, too. We must now face the reality that we have entrusted some of the most fundamental civil liberties to corporations that have obligations only to their shareholders, not to democracy. We the people are guaranteed freedom of speech in the public square. But we do not enjoy those same freedoms on the private social media networks that have replaced the town hall. As more and more of our communications and daily lives happen on private property—and make no mistake that Facebook’s website is its private property—we increasingly trust corporations to protect our “inalienable” rights. It may surprise many that Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, Reddit, Discord, and other social media platforms are not subject to First Amendment constraints, because they are not state actors.