First Amendment Battles over Anti-Deplatforming Statutes: Examining Miami Herald Publishing Co. v. Tornillo’s Relevance for Today’s Online Social Media Platform Cases
Florida adopted a statute in 2021 barring large social media sites from deplatforming—removing from their sites—candidates running for state and local office. Soon thereafter, Texas adopted its own anti-deplatforming statute. A trade association representing several major social media companies is now challenging the laws in federal court for violating the platforms’ First Amendment speech rights. A central issue in both NetChoice, LLC v. Moody (targeting Florida’s statute) and NetChoice, LLC v. Paxton (attacking Texas’s law) is the significance of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1974 decision in Miami Herald Publishing Co. v. Tornillo. In Tornillo, the Court struck down a Florida statute that compelled print newspapers that published attacks on political candidates’ character or record to provide access in their pages for those political candidates’ replies. This Article examines the relevance of Tornillo’s aging precedent in conferring print newspapers with a right of editorial autonomy and a right not to be compelled to speak in today’s social media, anti-deplatforming cases. The Article avers that while Tornillo may help the platforms with their legal challenges, its impact is cabined by several crucial factual and legal distinctions. The Article concludes that dicta regarding both access and social media platforms in the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2017 decision in Packingham v. North Carolina could play a surprising role in pushing back against Tornillo.