Twitter and Reddit are joining the fight against the US’s attempt to demand social media handles from visa applicants. The two companies filed supporting evidence in a lawsuit against the United States government on the issue.
They argue that the demands by the government are likely to “chill a vast quantity of free speech.” The companies also note that the demands are in direct opposition to First Amendment rights that allow people to speak anonymously.
Twitter and Reddit also went on to argue that the values of the First Amendment are deeply rooted in US history and have been responsible for the diverse and robust marketplace of ideas in the country. These assertions have also been supported by the Internet Association, a trade union that represents some of the biggest tech companies in the US including Google and Facebook.
The requirement to have visa applicants provide their social media handles for scrutiny was introduced by the Trump administration in 2019. They may also affect nearly 14 million people who travel to the US each year. The new requirements would mean that visa applicants must provide up to 20 social media handles that they use on various social media platforms.
Before the changes in 2019, only certain types of applicants, subjected to additional scrutiny, were required to provide their social media handles. But it looks like the rules now will apply to anyone and everyone who wants to enter the United States.
The lawsuit challenging the new rules was filed last year by the Knight First Amendment Institute based at Columbia University in New York. Twitter and Reddit said in their amicus brief that a lot of people choose to express their opinions on social media simply because of the anonymity it offers. They went on to argue that there are many reasons why this anonymity should be protected.
The two companies also added that the reason why many people choose to speak on their platforms is because they have the guarantee that their identity will not be shared with any government agency or third party.
They believe that this arrangement continues to allow the free exchange of ideas across all borders. Demanding that users provide their social media handles to apply for US visas will significantly affect this free exchange. It’s not clear whether other major tech companies will join the lawsuit but it seems that many of them support it.
The Trump administration has had a torrid relationship with Silicon Valley. The president has accused Google, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms of censoring conservative viewpoints. Just recently, Trump said that he will sign an executive order striping liability protections for social media companies after Twitter fact-checked some of his tweets.
However, the president has no power to do so and would likely face many legal hurdles in US courts in the process. Twitter and other social media companies have noted that they don’t want to be the arbiters of truth but are increasingly putting in place measures to prevent the spread of misinformation through their platforms.