The First Amendment forbids public officials from censoring disfavored speech and speakers. But what happens if public officials enlist private parties to do the censorship? In recent years, public officials and agencies have pressed social-media platforms to silence dissenting views on public health and other “misinformation,” insurers and financial institutions to drop clients engaged in unpopular or controversial advocacy, and health-care providers to dismiss attorneys challenging government policy. Further, there’s no way to know how many private decisions to silence speech and speakers have been influenced or coerced by government actors.
Is this phenomenon inevitable in an age of unprecedented opportunity to reach large audiences? Should there be greater transparency when public officials wield their power to influence the exercise of First Amendment rights? What’s the line between encouragement and coercion, and is that the right line to separate constitutional from unconstitutional censorship? What are the prospects that agencies will police themselves and refrain from wielding their power and influence to suppress dissension and debate? Should Congress or the President address third-party censorship and, if so, how exactly? Our panelists will address these questions and more.