Terrorism and Other Dangerous Online Content: Exporting the First Amendment?

Michael Posner

By Michael Posner and Ryan Goodman

By Michael Posner and Ryan Goodman

The United States has an historic opportunity to work with democracies around the world to address dangerous online content, including white supremacist terrorism. In 2019, a lone wolf live-streamed via Facebook his massacre of 51 people at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. In direct response, dozens of the world’s leading democracies joined with major social media companies to issue a call to action. The Trump administration, however, did not join them, vaguely referring to First Amendment concerns to explain its absence.

With the coming anniversary of the Christchurch Call to Action (May 15) and the Summit of Democracy, it’s high time to reconsider the U.S. posture. Whatever the merits or demerits of any multilateral effort to address dangerous online content, one purported basis for the U.S. failure to join such initiatives cannot withstand scrutiny. That’s the claim that the United States has a policy of refraining from supporting international agreements that would call on other countries to act inconsistently with the First Amendment.

One of us served as the State Department’s most senior human rights official and the other has served on the State Department’s advisory committee on international law during Democratic and Republican administrations. Based on our experience and assessment of U.S. practices, we question any assertion of such a general or consistent U.S. approach toward international agreements.

Read the full Just Security article.
Michael Posner is a Professor of Business and Society and Director of the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights.