It no longer makes sense to speak of free speech in traditional terms. The internet has so transformed the nature of the speaker that the definition of speech itself has changed.
The new speech is governed by the allocation of virality. People cannot simply speak for themselves, for there is always a mysterious algorithm in the room that has independently set the volume of the speaker’s voice. If one is to be heard, one must speak in part to one’s human audience, in part to the algorithm. It is as if the US Constitution had required citizens to speak through actors or lawyers who answered to the Dutch East India Company, or some other large remote entity. What power should these intermediaries have? When the very logic of speech must shift in order for people to be heard, is that still free speech? This was not a problem foreseen in the law.
The time may be right for a legal and policy reset. US lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are questioning Section 230, the liability shield that enshrined the ad-driven internet. The self-reinforcing ramifications of a mere 26 words—“no provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider”—has produced a social media ecosystem that is widely held to have had deleterious effects on both democracy and mental health.