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Science and Technology, Life and Arts, Law and Politics

Should Social Media Fact Check?

The First Amendment and private companies

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  • Social media is defined as a "form of electronic communication." [Merriam-Webster]
  • Social media enables users to freely create and share content or to participate in social networking. [Merriam-Webster]
  • Free speech is a right protected by the First Amendment from government interference. [Legal Information Institute]
  • The popular social platforms (Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat) are private entities, meaning they are self-regulated and not currently subjected to government regulations around the First Amendment.  [The New York Times]


The First Amendment from the Bill of Rights

[National Constitution Center]


"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."


  • The Russian government used social media platforms to spread misinformation to the American public during the 2016 presidential election. [U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee]
  • Many leaders are now questioning the role that social media companies play in stopping the spread of fake news. 
  • 2018: 56% of Americans favor technology companies taking steps to monitor or restrict false information. [Pew Research Center]
  • 2018: 58% of Americans oppose the government taking steps to regulate information online, even if that means false information is published. [Pew Research Center]

  • Should technology companies fact check public figures? 




  • The First Amendment protects an individual's free speech from government censorship stating, "Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press."
  • Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act protects free speech on the internet. [Legal Information Institute]

Fierce debate occurs when discussing if nongovernmental organizations can regulate an individual's speech on a private platform. For example, TV is considered a public entity and is regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) while social media platforms are currently self-regulated.


SOCIAL: Many believe public figures, like celebrities and politicians, should be using their platform for good. There is no law regulating how they use their platform.


Private orgs and Capitalism

Private companies have the ability to regulate or reject content from publishing on their platform. [The New York Times]


The First Amendment protects individuals from the government infringing on free speech, not private companies. [Vox]


If users do not enjoy the regulation from a private company, capitalism believes the company will fail as users will go elsewhere.



We keep falling for it

2016: 23% of Americans said they shared a fake story within their social network. [Pew Research Center


Fake news can be harmful. [TIME] Some believe that technology platforms should better protect their consumers from harmful content.



Welcome to 2020

Journalists and news organizations are held to ethics and standards and are legally accountable for libel laws. It is within their rights to set standards and reject information that does not comply. [The New York Times]


62% of Americans get their news from social media. [Pew Research Center] Some believe social media companies should then be held to news publishing standards. 



Music and movie standards

Many believe tech platforms should adopt a similar model that music, movies use: a label or warning telling consumers about the content. [Freedom Forum Institute]


Lies are protected

The First Amendment protects false, untrue, or misleading speech in public spaces from being censored by the government. [Harvard Journal of Law and Technology]


The Supreme Court has upheld that speech, true or false, is protected by the First Amendment. [Congressional Research Service]


Many argue that the government cannot force tech companies to regulate the speech published on their platform, as that could be a violation of the First Amendment.



Not their job

Some believe it is not the job of the social media company to regulate speech on the platform.


Some believe that it is the role of consumers or users to filter what public figures say, not the job of the tech platform. [Columbia Journalism Review]


Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg holds this opinion. Facebook's company policy exempts politicians and political ads from fact-checking, as they believe the advertisement to be a "newsworthiness exemption." [Brookings]




  • Jan 2020: Big tech CEO's called on the government to pass legislation to better regulate platforms. [The Wall Street Journal]
  • May 26, 2020: Twitter placed a fact-check label on President Trump's tweet about mail-in ballots. [The Wall Street Journal]
  • May 28, 2020: Trump signed an executive order on "preventing online censorship." The order does not change existing federal law and will have no bearing on federal courts. [NPR]
  • Jun 1, 2020: Facebook employees staged a virtual walkout, demanding the company do more to fact check. [The New York Times]
  • Jun 1, 2020: Bots on Twitter spread misinformation about peaceful protests across the country demanding social and criminal justice in response to the string of lack Americans killed. [NPR]
  • Jun 4, 2020: Facebook has begun labeling news stories from "state-run media." [NPR]
  • Oct. 6, 2020: Facebook has ban QAnon conspiracy theory accounts, including on Instagram. [BBC]


  • Read more about legal protections for the public against libel and slander
  • Regardless of opinion, the vast majority of Americans believe voters should have access to accurate information to make informed choices. How can each work together to solve the fake news crisis?
  • What can you do to ensure you are not duped by politicians or fake news online?
  • Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Mark Warner (D-VA) proposed the Honest Ads Act, which would force online political advertising to adhere to the same stipulations as political ads on TV. It has not been voted on.
  • The debate over warning labels is not new, as parental advisories have successfully made it on music and movies. Read a 1990 article from The New York Times discussing labels on music. 
  • The FCC was established by Franklin Roosevelt with the assumption that the airwaves belonged to the people. [Encyclopdea Britannica] When does social media be defined as a similar threshold to TV broadcasters?
Key Vocabulary