The Scoop: Social platforms’ admin policies face SCOTUS scrutiny

Plus: AT&T offers credit and apology following outage, a controversy at baseball’s Spring Training.

In a groundbreaking case, the Supreme Court is slated to hear two cases today that could change how social media platforms and free speech laws interact. According to The New York Times, the two laws that will go before the court, one from Florida and one from Texas, cover two slightly different topics. The one from Florida bans platforms from removing content based on a user’s point of view, and the law from Texas disallows social media platforms from permanently banning accounts tied to political candidates in the State.

The two trade associations challenging the state laws — NetChoice and the Computer & Communications Industry Association — said that the actions Judge Oldham called censorship were editorial choices protected by the First Amendment, which generally prohibits government restrictions on speech based on content and viewpoint.

The groups said that social media companies were entitled to the same constitutional protections enjoyed by newspapers, which are generally free to publish what they like without government interference.

The states responded that internet platforms were common carriers required to transmit everyone’s messages and that the laws protected free speech by ensuring that users have access to many points of view.

The decision in the case won’t be known until June, the results could have a seismic impact on social media platforms’ admin policies. 

Why it matters: In the PR world, any platform that can carry your message is a potential conduit for storytelling. With that in mind, make no mistake — the rulings in these cases have the potential to change the landscape of social media forever. If one or both of these laws are upheld, platforms will have to revisit and overhaul the way administration works, and their current classification as media platforms may fundamentally change, subject to more federal oversight. In turn, you might see brands flip their strategies in search of a safer, less chaotic place to put their messaging, while legislators navigate new regulations for the platforms.

Keep an eye on the results of this case, PR pros. Any shift in the social media landscape is worth watching, and when the rulings come down in June, your content strategy might need some alterations.

Editor’s Top Picks:

  • Mobile carrier AT&T apologized to its customers and the general public after a major outage last week. “No matter the timing, one thing is clear — we let down many of our customers, including many of you and your families,” AT&T CEO John Sankey said in a statement. The company is also offering $5 to users to “make it right” following the outage. It’s one thing (and the right thing) for a company to apologize for inconveniencing users who rely on its service for business and personal communication. It’s another to put forth the effort and offer financial compensation (no matter how small) to help smooth things over. Even these small gestures can generate the positive PR that organizations rely on to keep current customers loyal and earn new ones. But will it be enough to stem litigious business customers who may have lost a day of connectivity?
  • Baseball season is back — and people aren’t talking about the action on the field. No, they’re talking about an unintentionally scandalous uniform look this year. According to The Wall Street Journal, fans online are making fun of Nike’s new baseball uniforms as the pants are somewhat see-through. A Baltimore Orioles player even told the Baltimore Banner that the uniforms look like “a knockoff jersey from T.J. Maxx.” Nike is almost certainly going to have to address the uproar around these new uniforms, and that’s why PR pros need to always be ready for any crisis that might arise. When the internet gets a hold of an inferior product and starts making fun of it online, you need to be ready to cover your bases immediately.
  • In a tasty bit of news to close, Krispy Kreme is getting in on the Leap Day fun this year and offering customers a dozen original glazed donuts for $2.29, in honor of the date. According to USA Today, if customers have a birthday that falls on February 29, they can get a box of 12 donuts for free. “An extra day in the year is an irresistible opportunity for Krispy Kreme to be extra-sweet to our guests,” said Dave Skena, global chief brand officer for Krispy Kreme. “So, we’re sweetening Leap Day by the dozens, including for fans whose true birthday comes around only every four years.” In addition to this promo, Krispy Kreme also got in on the current events marketing action and offered AT&T customers who lost service last week a free donut while their service was down. Newsjacking is a critical part of a PR strategy, and whoever is running the show over at Krispy Kreme is doing an exemplary job of keeping a tasty product in the conversation by tying promotions to current events.

Sean Devlin is an editor at Ragan Communications. In his spare time he enjoys Philly sports, a good pint and ’90s trivia night.


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