Aidan Vogelson, MJLST Staffer
At first, the concept that social media’s days may be numbered seems outlandish. Billions of people utilize social media every day and, historically, social media companies and other internet services have enjoyed virtually unfettered editorial control over how they manage their services. This freedom stems from 47 U.S.C. § 230. § 230 withholds liability for “any action voluntarily taken in good faith to restrict access to or availability of material that the provider or user considers to be obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable, whether or not such material is constitutionally protected…” In other words, if someone makes an obscene post on Facebook and Facebook removes the post, Facebook cannot be held liable for any violation of protected speech. § 230 has long allowed social media companies to self-regulate by removing posts that violate their terms of service, but on September 29, the Supreme Court granted a writ of certiorari in Moody v. NetChoice, LLC, a case that may fundamentally change how social media companies operate by allowing the government at the state or federal level to regulate around their § 230 protections.
At issue in Moody is whether the methods social media companies use to moderate their content are permissible under the First Amendment and whether social media companies may be classified as common carriers. Common carriers are services which hold themselves open to the public and transport people or goods. While the term “common carrier” once referred only to public transportation services like railroads and airlines, the definition now encompasses communications services such as radio and telephone companies. Common carriers are subjected to greater regulations, including anti-discrimination regulations, due to their market domination of a necessary public service. For example, given our reliance on airlines and telephone companies in performing necessary services, common carrier regulations ensure that an airline cannot decline to sell tickets to passengers because of their religious beliefs and a cellular network cannot bar service to customers because it disapproves of the content of their phone conversations. If social media companies are held to be common carriers, the federal government and the state governments could impose regulations on what content those companies restrict.
Moody stems from state efforts to do just that. The Florida legislature passed State Bill 7072 to curtail what it saw as social media censorship of conservative voices. The Florida law allows for significant fines against social media companies that demonstrate “unfair censorship” or “deplatform” political candidates, like X (formerly Twitter) did when it removed former President Trump from its platform for falsely claiming that the 2020 election was stolen. Florida is not the only state to pursue a common carrier designation for social media. Texas passed a similar law in 2021 (which is currently enjoined by NetChoice, LLC v. Paxton and will be addressed alongside Moody) and the attorney general of Ohio has sued Google, seeking for the court to declare that Google is a common carrier to prevent the company from prioritizing its own products in search results. Ohio v. Google LLC is ongoing, and while the judge partially granted Google’s motion to dismiss, he found that Ohio’s claim that Google is a common carrier is cognizable. Given the increasing propensity with which states are attempting to regulate social media, the Supreme Court’s ruling is necessary to settle this vital issue.
Supporters of classifying social media companies as common carriers argue that social media is simply the most recent advancement in communication and should accordingly be designated a common carrier, just as telephone operators and cellular networks are. They explain that designating social media companies as common carriers is actually consistent with the broad protections of § 230, as regulating speech on a social media site regulates the speech of users, not the speech of the company.
However, they ignore that social media companies rely on First Amendment and § 230 protections when they curate the content on their sites. Without the ability to promote or suppress posts and users, these companies would not be able to provide the personalized content that attracts users, and social media would likely become an even greater hotbed of misinformation and hate speech than it already is. The purpose of § 230 is to encourage the development of a thriving online community, which is why Congress chose to shield internet services from liability for content. Treating social media companies as common carriers would stifle that aim.
It is unclear how the Court will rule. In his concurrence in Biden v. Knight First Amend. Inst., Justice Thomas indicated he may be willing to consider social media companies as common carriers. The other justices have yet to write or comment on this issue, but whatever their decision may be, the ramifications of this case will be significant. The conservative politicians behind the Florida and Texas laws have specifically decried what they argue is partisan censorship of conservative views about the Covid-19 pandemic and the 2020 election, yet these very complaints demonstrate the need for social media companies to exercise editorial control over their content. Covid-19 misinformation unquestionably led to unnecessary deaths from the Covid-19 pandemic. Misinformation about the 2020 election led to a violent attempted overthrow of our government. These threats of violence and dangerous misinformation are the harms that Congress created § 230 to avoid. Without the ability for social media companies to curate content, social media will assuredly contain more racism, misinformation, and calls for violence. Few would argue given the omnipresence of social media in our modern world, our reliance on it for communication, and the misinformation it spreads that social media does not need some form of regulation, but if the Court allows the Florida and Texas laws implicated in Moody and NetChoice to stand, they will be paving the way for a patchwork quilt of laws in every state which may render social media unworkable
 See 47 U.S.C. § 230.
 47 U.S.C. §230(c)(2)(A).
 Moody v. Netchoice, LLC, SCOTUSblog, https://www.scotusblog.com/case-files/cases/moody-v-netchoice-llc/.
 Alison Frankel, Are Internet Companies ‘Common Carriers’ of Content? Courts Diverge on Key Question, REUTERS, (May 31, 2022, 5:52 PM), https://www.reuters.com/legal/transactional/are-internet-companies-common-carriers-content-courts-diverge-key-question-2022-05-31/.
 David Savage, Supreme Court Will Decide if Texas and Florida Can Regulate Social Media to Protect ‘Conservative Speech’, LA TIMES (Sept. 29, 2023, 8:33 AM), https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/supreme-court-will-decide-if-texas-and-florida-can-regulate-social-media-to-protect-conservative-speech/ar-AA1hrE2s.
 AG Yost Files Landmark Lawsuit to Declare Google a Public Utility, OHIO ATTORNEY GENERAL’S OFFICE (June 8, 2021), https://www.ohioattorneygeneral.gov/Media/News-Releases/June-2021/AG-Yost-Files-Landmark-Lawsuit-to-Declare-Google-a.
 Ohio v. Google LLC, No. 21-CV-H-06-0274 (Ohio Misc. 2022), https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/legaldocs/gdpzyeakzvw/frankel-socialmediacommoncarrier–ohioruling.pdf.
 John Villasenor, Social Media Companies and Common Carrier Status: A Primer, BROOKINGS INST. (Oct. 27, 2022), https://www.brookings.edu/articles/social-media-companies-and-common-carrier-status-a-primer/.
 Biden v. Knight First Amend. Inst., 141 S. Ct. 1220 (2021), https://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/20-197.
 Alistair Coleman, ’Hundreds Dead’ Because of Covid-19 Misinformation, BBC (Aug. 12, 2020), https://www.bbc.com/news/world-53755067.