Reddit and Twitter have submitted supporting evidence in a case against the US government which challenges the requirement that visa applicants submit their social media account handles for scrutiny.
According to the companies, the requirement will “unquestionably chill a vast quantity of speech” and that it “violates the First Amendment rights to speak anonymously and associate privately.”
“Those guarantees are deeply rooted in this nation’s history, which has long cherished anonymity’s role in guaranteeing a robust marketplace of ideas — one where speakers can choose to keep their identity and their associations private as ‘a shield from the tyranny of the majority,’” say the two firms.
The Internet Association, a trade association that represents US tech companies, also supports the evidence.
The requirement for visa applicants to provide their social media handles was introduced last year. It is bound to affect about 14.7 million people each year, including people who travel to the US from other countries for work and study.
Applicants are required to submit all the handles they use on twenty sites including Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Instagram, YouTube and LinkedIn. Previously, only applicants who were subjected to an extra vetting process were required to give the information. Official visa applicants and certain diplomatic officials are however, exempt from the rule.
In their joint brief, Reddit and Twitter said there was a myriad of reasons their users would want to speak anonymously and that enabling that kind of speech was one of the central aspects of the online platforms’ function.
“Twitter and Reddit vigorously guard the right to speak anonymously for people on their platforms, and anonymous individuals correspondingly communicate on these platforms with the expectation that their identities will not be revealed without a specific showing of compelling need,” said the companies. “That expectation allows the free exchange of ideas to flourish on these platforms.”
In a press statement, Jessica Herrera-Flanigan, Twitter vice president for public policy and philanthropy, said the company was committed to “freedom of expression and privacy.” “We believe the government’s policy requiring visa applicants to disclose their social media handles infringes both of those rights and we are proud to lend our support on these critical legal issues.”
Ben Lee, Reddit’s general counsel and vice president, said that privacy was a “foundational value” for the site. “With this brief we intend to defend not just our users but all users who are determined to maintain their privacy on the internet from intrusive overreach by the government.”