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Free Speech Lawsuits Pressure Tech Firms on Content Removal

As Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg fielded questions from lawmakers Tuesday and Wednesday, questions about data privacy, political advertising and foreign governments influencing U.S. elections showcased bipartisan concerns that are likely to shape the upcoming discussions over regulating the tech industry.

Senator Ted Cruz, however, used his allotted time to pepper Mr. Zuckerberg about censorship, citing right-leaning content that Facebook has removed. Senator Cruz’s performance might be dismissed as political grandstanding. But outside the spotlight of a Congressional hearing, a concerted effort is already underway to redefine tech companies as the modern era’s “town squares,” where the open exchange of ideas would be protected by the First Amendment.

CORRECTION: Senator Dan Sullivan of Alaska asked Mark Zuckerberg about whether Facebook viewed itself as a media company or a tech company. An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified the senator as Senator Dan Marsh.

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Justice Kennedy likened internet platforms to “the modern public square” in making the argument that it was unconstitutional to prevent sex offenders from accessing, and expressing opinions, on social network platforms.