Jawboning and the First Amendment
Gary Waters

Jawboning and the First Amendment

A research initiative studying governmental efforts to pressure social media platforms to change their content moderation policies and practices

The First Amendment strictly limits the government’s power to regulate speech, but when it comes to jawboning—informal government efforts to persuade, cajole, or strong-arm private platforms to change their content-moderation practices—the law is unclear. Though some of these efforts are perhaps best understood as a legitimate aspect of governance, others are likely illegitimate, and possibly unconstitutional, efforts to censor public discourse. The latter efforts are especially concerning because platforms often have every incentive to bow to pressure from government actors.

The Knight Institute is launching a research initiative on jawboning, engaging scholars and practitioners from varying backgrounds, including legal scholars, social scientists, former technology company representatives, and civil society advocates. Through a series of convenings, blog posts, and essays, this project will consider empirical and theoretical questions about how jawboning works, why it matters as a form of censorship, and what possible regulations and solutions can remedy its harms.

Read the Jawboning blog.

Learn more about the October convening.


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