This Article aims to supply policymakers and jurists with an ideologically-neutral framework for evaluating the legitimacy of imposing public interest duties on today’s dominant communicative technologies, such as Netflix, YouTube, or Facebook. In contrast to current literature, which often advocates for adopting either a libertarian or a distributive position about communication policies and free speech values, this Article suggests an ideologically-neutral, fact-based examination for evaluating the various sources of legitimacy with regard to both “old” and “new” media regulation.

The first Part of the Article begins by adopting a sociohistorical perspective to taxonomize consensual sources for legitimizing media regulation within the public interest framework. By unraveling these various rationales and justifications, it further examines the sources’ theoretical and practical applicability to contemporary debates about the constitutional permissibility of regulating internet-based content providers and platforms. The second Part suggests that, although both utilitarian-economic and egalitarian-democratic justifications for traditional media regulation can generally apply to new forms of commercial media, free speech jurisprudence lacks sufficient consensus about the conditions for the legitimacy of such regulation, as it suffers from two primary flaws: (a) lack of rationality or basis in social facts; and (b) lack of sensitivity to the hidden constitutional costs of media regulation within the public interest framework. The third Part of the Article offers a consensual framework for bridging today’s ideological divides—over media regulation and free speech jurisprudence alike—by suggesting common ground for evaluating the legitimacy of media law and policy, which both libertarian and egalitarian ends of the liberal-democratic spectrum can support.