Trump Suits Against Tech Giants Face Steep First Amendment Hurdles 川普告科技巨擘 面臨憲法第一增修條文阻礙
Whatever else might be said about the curious lawsuits filed by former President Donald Trump, in which he accused three Big Tech companies of violating his First Amendment rights by denying him access to their platforms, it is fitting that he sued in Florida.
The state has long been on the cutting edge, and on the losing end, of efforts to force private companies to publish political messages to which they object.
Almost 50 years ago, the Supreme Court struck down a Florida law that would have allowed politicians a "right to reply" to newspaper articles critical of them. And late last month, a federal judge in Florida blocked a new state law that would have imposed large fines on some tech companies that "willfully deplatform a candidate for office."
Together, the two decisions, one from the Nixon era and the other issued June 30, demonstrate that the lawsuits Trump filed in Miami against Facebook, Twitter and YouTube face steep odds. The First Amendment applies to government censorship and not private activities, courts have said.
The case that gave rise to the 1974 Supreme Court decision was brought by Pat Tornillo, who was displeased by colorful editorials in the Miami Herald opposing his candidacy for the Florida House of Representatives.
Tornillo invoked a Florida law that required newspapers to give candidates they criticized free space for a reply "in as conspicuous a place and in the same kind of type." The newspaper refused, lost in the state's highest court and appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
"Of course, the press is not always accurate, or even responsible, and may not present full and fair debate on important public issues," he wrote. "But the balance struck by the First Amendment with respect to the press is that society must take the risk that occasionally debate on vital matters will not be comprehensive and that all viewpoints may not be expressed."
How Public Letters Became Companies' Favorite Form of Activism 美國企業 愛用公開信表態
Over the past few years, CEOs have taken a stance on a variety of issues that previous generations of business leaders might have avoided altogether. Some have pledged money or reassessed their firm's political giving. Mostly, though, they have written and signed countless public letters.
Anti-LGBTQ legislation, police brutality against Black Americans, violence against Asian Americans and the recent efforts to restrict voting access have all prompted strongly worded statements from some of the nation's most prominent business figures. In one case, hundreds of them signed a letter together.
It can be easy to dismiss the significance of a letter as a tool of change. A signed statement is, quite literally, all talk, and it doesn't guarantee any further action. But these letters also mark a shift in the relationship between companies and their employees and customers, and in the scope of the role that CEOs are expected to play in the social and political landscape.
"The tipping point really was the 2016 election," said Meike Eilert, who researches company and consumer behavior, most recently at the University of Kentucky.
As politics were becoming more divisive, Gen Z was entering the workforce and gaining power as consumers. "Digitally native generations, but especially Gen Z, put a lot of pressure on companies to stand up and demonstrate their values," she said.
The nature of the issues at the core of these conversations has also changed. Recent CEO letters against voting legislation, for example, are a case not of demanding change but of speaking up for democratic rights enshrined in law decades ago.
"What you're seeing is CEOs holding the center," said Michael Toffel, a professor at Harvard Business School who studies CEO activism. Ten years ago, securing voting rights would not have been considered a "liberal" thing, he said, adding: "It would have been kind of an American thing."
So why turn to an open letter? Companies want to balance the shift in consumer and employee expectations with pressure from investors, who have historically tended to frown on any efforts that could divert resources from shareholder value. Writing a letter is a relatively safe way to do that, suggested a paper in the Journal of Marketing last year. Signing a group letter is even safer.