On the court and online, Justice Clarence and Virginia Thomas hit Big Tech

Justice Clarence and Virginia Thomas join a chorus of conservatives raising alarm about social media's control over speech.

4/7/2021 11:10:00 PM

On the court and online, Justice Clarence and Virginia Thomas hit Big Tech. The couple join a chorus of conservatives raising alarm about social media's control over speech.

Justice Clarence and Virginia Thomas join a chorus of conservatives raising alarm about social media's control over speech.

04:01Clarence Thomas’ remarks may signal a new chapter in that effort, and an indication that the fight over social media’s power may end up being a legal, rather than a legislative, one. On Monday, the Federalist, a conservative news site, called Thomas' remarks"

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a road mapto eliminating rampant social media censorship from online monopolies."“Thomas’ not-very-veiled hostility toward big tech is absolutely another aspect of a more general conservative antagonism toward Silicon Valley,” Paul M. Barrett, the deputy director of the New York University Stern Center for Business and Human Rights, and the co-author of the NYU study, said in an interview. “We could have a fight over curtailing protections for social media companies at the Supreme Court as opposed to across the street at Congress.”

Thomas’ opinion this week pertained to the court’s decision to vacate an appeals court ruling that Trump had violated the First Amendment by blocking people from his Twitter account. Thomas argued that it was, in fact, the technology platforms that represented the greater threat to the First Amendment: “[I]f the aim is to ensure that speech is not smothered,” he wrote, “then the more glaring concern must perforce be the dominant digital platforms themselves.” headtopics.com

He made it clear he was talking about more than just Twitter and Facebook, taking aim at two other giants that have often drawn bipartisan criticism. Google, Thomas wrote, “can suppress content by deindexing or downlisting a search result or by steering users away from certain content by manually altering autocomplete results. Amazon “can impose cataclysmic consequences on authors by, among other things, blocking a listing.”

Thomas’ warnings build on the case he made in a ruling in October, when he urged the court to determine the correct interpretation of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, the law that protects tech platforms from legal liability for what users post. His suggestion was that the law had been applied too broadly and needed stricter definitions.

“Justice Thomas seems to be urging lawmakers (federal and state) to pass laws limiting platforms' ability to exclude certain content or voices,” said Justin Brookman, the head of tech policy for Consumer Reports and a former policy director of the Federal Trade Commission’s Office of Technology Research and Investigation. “It’s certainly legitimate to be concerned about the power that big tech platforms have over the information we consume.”

It’s not clear whether Thomas will succeed in provoking a legal debate over Section 230. But if he could, the ramifications for the tech industry would be significant.The high court “could potentially revisit interpretations of Section 230 that go back 25 years and just say that the courts got it wrong when they interpreted protections very broadly,” Barrett said. “If you got a restrictive interpretation of Section 230 from the Supreme Court, that could shake up the social media industry even more dramatically than what Congress might end up doing.” headtopics.com

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The recent effort by Virginia Thomas might help to fuel that push. In her email, which was obtained by NBC News, the activist and attorney identified the power of social media companies to censor conservatives as the most immediate threat of corporate tyranny. She directed people to a post on the new site, StopCorporateTyranny.org, that called for Facebook and Twitter to"get out of politics."

The post channeled the unproven argument Republicans have been making for years: that Silicon Valley has a pro-left bias and censors conservatives."Increasingly, Facebook and Twitter have decided to use their platforms as political advocacy tools," the post said."They should not be restricting Americans who stand up against the dominant left-wing cultural elites."

It is far from the first time Virginia Thomas’ activism has overlapped with her husband’s own judicial opinions. A decade ago,judicial ethicists notedthat her acceptance of anonymous financial contributions through her nonprofit group could prove problematic for her husband. Justices are required by federal law to recuse themselves from cases in which there is a conflict of interest, including those where their spouses could have a financial interest in the outcome.

It is not clear whether Virginia Thomas has received any financial contributions from Back to Neutral (B2N), the coalition behind StopCorporateTyranny.org. She did not respond to a request for comment. Representatives for the Supreme Court did not respond to requests for comment. headtopics.com

Read more: NBC News »

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Why is Thomas ruling on these types of cases when he is clearly being influenced by his wife. Control over speech? Honestly, I don't think that's a problem. – Have they ever used social media? Did his wife send love to the insurrectionists? Is she being investigated for her role? Seriously, is it wise for these two to moralize about anything?

The right to free speech does not include the right to force others to publish your speech. And the GOP is now in the 'cancel' business. Thomas dont like when social media rightly so point out when he and his right wing wife was financing insurrection and treason on the country and constitution he sworn to protect... what 🤯 my mind is identity confused he is... he is black african american agains his kind

I thought members of SCOTUS were supposed to be apolitical? Sounds like a violation of his position, if not his oath. What a shame! They don't like it when so-called conservatives are being called on their lies, and are being put in 'Time Out'! I do know a few liberals who are in Facebook jail for being too harsh in their language. And I support that!

Many years ago on a USAir flight from New Orleans to national airport Clarence and Virginia sat directly in front of me. She towers over him and belittled him. He didn’t talk back. How much are they getting paid, and by whom? Both are attorneys and he's SCOTUS judge. Trying to rewrite the Constitution by fiat and opinion.

He needs to get ejected from the ct , his wife’s political co-mingling is over the top So Justice Clarence Thomas and Co-Justice Virginia Thomas has something to say about Big Tech and social media control over speech - such objectivity. When the dear justice, in his pursuit of “domestic tranquility”, publicly opines that an on-line MAGA MOB is the future of “free speech”, I am left scratching my head.

Sounds like he is trying to enable QAnon 2.0 My African American Time for social media to be regulated since they have decided they can't control themselves Even if the speech is a lie and causes death to innocent people? PM me if you’re interested in earning $500 by online trading daily, PM me if you have a phone or PC let’s go ✅

Just a reminder that Ginni Thomas celebrated 45 supporters who tried to kidnap and murder members of congress and even that dipshit former VP Mike Pence. Ginni and her hubby can have several seats and sit the fuck down when it comes to free speech on the internet. Pretty credulous second sentence of this tweet lede, NBC.

Uncle Ruckus at it again Virginia Thomas-- what was her role in the attack on our legislative branch of government?! That man has done so much to fuck up speech and civil rights over the years, he may just want to sit this one the fuck out. don't leave a can of coke near him.l Which clause of the Constitution grants citizens the right to a social media account?

Nice impartial justice. Angst over private companies having a say in how their platforms are used & by people who do not even pay for the pleasure of doing do, btw, is a bit much. A Thomas Family puff piece?