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Can a Controversial User Really Get Kicked off the Internet?


(This post is part of a five-part series on regulating online content moderation.)

When it comes to regulating content moderation, my overarching thesis is that the law, at a minimum, should step in to prevent “viewpoint foreclosure”—that is, to prevent private intermediaries from booting unpopular users, groups, or viewpoints from the internet entirely. But the skeptic—perhaps the purist who believes that the state should never intervene in private content moderation—might question whether the threat of viewpoint foreclosure even exists. “No one is at risk of getting kicked off the internet,” he might say. “If Facebook bans you, you can join Twitter. If Twitter won’t have you, you can join Parler. And even if every other provider refuses to host your speech, you can always stand up your own website.”

In my article, The Five Internet Rights, I call this optionality the “social contract” of content moderation: no one can be forced to host you on the internet, but neither can anyone prevent you from hosting yourself. The internet is decentralized, after all. And this decentralization prevents any private party, or even any government, from acting as a central choke point for online expression. As John Gilmore famously said, “The Net interprets censorship as damage and routs around it.”

But while this…

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