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Cornell experts on SCOTUS ruling in social media dispute

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Becka Bowyer

The Supreme Court has sided with the Biden administration over how far the federal government can go to combat controversial social media posts. The following Cornell University are available to provide comment.

Gautam Hans

Associate Clinical Professor of Law

Gautam Hans, associate clinical professor of law and associate director of the First Amendment Clinic, analyzes the legal and policy issues implicating technology and civil liberties and has previously written on these cases.

Hans say:

“The Court’s opinion in Murthy v. Missouri finds that the states and private parties who filed the case lack standing to assert a First Amendment claim. That’s quite sensible given the flimsy record the plaintiffs assembled, and the Court properly disposed of the case by noting the many problems with the plaintiffs’ theories. Hopefully, lower courts will use the opinion as a guide to exercise prudence in analyzing standing in future cases.

“In my opinion, the plaintiffs were right on one issue – the potential for government pressure to implicate First Amendment rights warrants careful consideration from the courts. But this case was obviously the wrong one for the Court to assess those free speech questions."

James Grimmelmanm

Tessler Family Professor of Digital and Information Law

James Grimmelmann, professor of digital and information law, studies how laws regulating software affect freedom, wealth, and power. Grimmelmann is an expert in content moderation, search engine regulation and online governance.

Grimmelmann says:

“The Supreme Court's decision is a sensible response to a difficult question. It recognizes that platforms are free to set their own content-moderation policies against harmful and deceptive posts. It protects them from government coercion of their moderation decisions, but it also allows them to listen to the government's views.

“The Court correctly rejected the lower courts' dangerous attempt to muzzle government officials from speaking out on matters of national importance, while keeping open the possibility that the courts could step in case that involved government coercion. The lawsuit here was based on far-fetched conspiracy theories, but not every lawsuit will be – indeed, the government is currently trying to suppress speech it doesn't like on TikTok.”

Gordon Pennycook

Associate professor of psychology in the College of Arts and Sciences

Gordon Pennycook, associate professor of psychology, studies misinformation. His research has investigated various interventions on social media, including accuracy prompts, fact-checking or debunking, crowdsourcing and labeling or warnings. 

Pennycook says:

Our research shows that even unbiased misinformation policies can lead to politically unbalanced ‘sanctioning’ on social media. We found that political conservatives shared more misinformation on Twitter (now X) following the 2020 Presidential Election and, likely as a consequence, were more likely to be removed from the platform.

“Importantly, this is not because of political bias in fact-checking: We found that politically balanced groups of laypeople also rated the content coming from politically conservative accounts as being lower quality. The implication of this work is that claims that social media companies are specifically targeting conservatives are likely overblown (or, in many cases, simply wrong).”

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