Upset that Trump and some of his most ardent supporters have been kicked off social media sites? Disturbed about social media giants and corporate entities banning certain sites from their platforms? Do you think that the First Amendment is being violated and that “freedom of speech” is under attack? You’re not alone, but do you have a valid argument?
The First Amendment states that: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
But what does that mean? What does it do? Freedom of religion allows people to believe and practice whatever religion they want. Freedom of speech and press allows people to voice their opinions publicly and to publish them without the government stopping them. Freedom of assembly allows people to gather in groups as long as they are peaceful. And the right to petition the government makes it possible for people to lobby the government, point out where it does not follow its own laws, and to sue if a wrong has occurred. “Without the government stopping them.”
Also, there are limits to the freedoms in the First Amendment as people’s individual rights must be balanced against the rights of society.
For example, a person cannot force the tenets of his or her religion on others while trying to practice that religion. Similarly, harmful speech, such as yelling “fire” in a crowded room, is not protected speech, nor is publishing a lie that causes harm to someone.
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, etc. are private businesses, and as such, are free to police their platforms as they see fit. They do so under guidelines provided for in their Terms of Services (TOS), which whether you paid attention or not, everyone agrees to upon joining those sites.
Case in point: several years ago my personal Facebook account was temporarily suspended on three different occasions. All three occurred after rather heated debates with members of various “Flat Earth” Facebook groups. Accordingly, I understood that I had violated Facebook‘s TOS and had deserved those account suspensions.
As private social media sites began to remove harmful posts, posts that incited violence, blatantly false posts, and general violations of their TOS, by users counted upon by millions of people for information, several high profile far right activists decided to branch out on their own. And Parler was formed.
For those of you unfamiliar with Parler, it was founded in 2018 upon the premise that all speech would be accepted, and no censorship would occur. In 2020, its’ membership swelled to over 1.5 million users following a mass exodus from mainstream social media, and it became the playground of white supremacists, anti-semites, misogynists, and various other far right, radical groups. Over the past several months, posts on that site included specific threats of violence and death, plans for insurrection, and bizarre conspiracy theories. (See multiple screenshots from Parler below.) Accordingly, Apple and Google, both private companies, opted to remove the Parler apps from their platforms, and several days later, Amazon, another private company, removed the site from their supporting platform.
Violations of the First Amendment? No.
Violations of their free speech? No. Disagree? Here’s a little exercise for you: Remove your shirt and shoes and walk into your local grocery store, restaurant, or any other place of business. When you are unceremoniously escorted from that private establishment, apply that thought process to all private companies.
Caution: Various screenshots from the Parler site include racist and misogynist comments, threats of violence and death, and bizarre predictions.