From the Twitter Files to major antitrust lawsuits, 2023 left a lasting impact on technology policy, As we enter a new year, many questions remain: What will online speech look like in the future? Does increased public use of generative artificial intelligence tools necessitate regulation? Here’s a look at the major developments from this year and how they may impact 2024.

Best:

Elon Musk opens the black box with the Twitter Files, illuminating the pervasiveness of government intervention on social media. From December 2022 to March 2023, journalists released internal Twitter communications showing how the company suppressed content, “shadow-banned,” and, most notably, worked with government officials to moderate users’ posts. These revelations were significant because the First Amendment bars state actors from restricting lawful speech. Given the extensive collaboration between social media companies and the government, there is an open question about whether they are restricting online speech in violation of the First Amendment. Now that lawmakers know what is happening behind the scenes, more opportunities exist to address this important social media issue.

TikTok faced congressional scrutiny and even a potential nationwide ban. TikTok boomed in popularity during the pandemic, and its presence in the United States has not waned since then. But the Chinese platform has no shortage of issues: it is subject to the Chinese government’s laws, and there is evidence that it has suppressed human rights posts. The company has substantial control over what users see, which presents cultural and social concerns. Finally, there is also a litany of privacy and national security issues. It’s past time for Americans to think about these problems and contemplate what role, if any, TikTok should have in our society.

Strides in AI create new possibilities for the future, especially for the world of work. Generative AI is aiding workers in activities such as coding, document analysis, and customer service. As we are just beginning to see, there are opportunities for both traditional workers and freelancers to leverage AI.

Worst:

The Federal Trade Commission sues Amazon and Google. The Federal Trade Commission is continuing its fight against Big Tech companies. But these lawsuits, if successful, will harm consumers and innovation more broadly. At risk is the longstanding consumer welfare standard, which has guided regulators and the courts for decades. It is the lodestar that tethers antitrust to economics, preventing the law from being used for political and partisan aims.

Child online safety bills gain traction on Capitol Hill, despite free speech concerns. Lawmakers pushed forward bills such as the Kids Online Safety Act, which would have the inevitable consequence of limiting speech. The bill would empower government officials to challenge social media companies should they fail to prevent “harm to minors.” This would, in essence, give the government a means to bypass the First Amendment and censor otherwise lawful content.

Lawmakers scramble to understand AI so they can regulate it. This year, there were many hearings and bills aimed at addressing AI. While legislators seemed to value innovation over heavy-handed and drastic measures, the future is unclear. It certainly did not help that OpenAI CEO Sam Altman asked Congress to regulate AI through a licensing scheme, without regard for how this would impact small players and long-term research and development. 

What’s the issue to watch in 2024?

2024 is poised to be a big year for online speech, from the NetChoice cases at the Supreme Court to the presidential election (recall how social media companies grappled with election misinformation in the past). For better or worse, the ways in which we communicate and share our ideas online may drastically change.