Freedom of Speech and Social Media

The last four years has been a roller coaster ride, no one can deny that. Since the 2016 election that brought Trump in as president, we have seen a steady increase in hate crimes. We have watched as hate groups have taken more of a center stage in media reports. We have watch as citizens clamor that they have the right to do and say things that were not done before. Our country has rapidly changed since Trump took office. The subject of our rights has taken center stage and it had caused a great deal of confusion as to where they start and stop.

One of the rights that has been heavily contested in the last four years is our freedom of speech. More groups have come out saying their rights are being infringed upon and they are not allowed to say what the Constitution grants them the rights of. There are claims that social media are kicking people off their accounts and violating their rights. And we have even seen that our own government, in places, has tried to diminish the rights of citizens from free speech.

Amendment I

“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.”

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In the last few months, we have seen social media giants censoring posts because they are deemed spreading inaccurate information. If a tweet or posts has not been fact checked or is sharing known and false information they are redacted or removed completely. In return people are clamoring that their First Amendment right is being violated and that those same social media companies are using their position to hide information. Here is something some of you may not know and may even not agree with, the First Amendment does not protect you on social media. In fact, it only guarantees that the government. They are private sectors and have no obligation to you to protect your First Amendment.

The First Amendment does not give us the right to use hate speech, liable, or incite lawless action, such as threats. During this presidency, we have watched as Trump has made comments that are very close to the very things the Amendment does not protect. We have seen cases that are extremely close to liable being played out in the “debates.”  We have heard him say that people he calls “spies” be handled like they used to. This was in regards to the whistleblower who leaked information about a call Trump had with the Ukraine. But you can also argue there has been plenty of talk from various other people aiming what can be perceived as threats towards the president. 

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Here is a way of looking at it. You cannot send a letter to a newspaper to be printed that uses hateful language and filled with information that is not correct. They simply will not print it. You also could not send them a letter that spouts information contrary to what they choose to publish. It is their paper, and they can decide what can and cannot be published.

The face of communications is changing rapidly. We have seen that those social media companies are becoming the main way that we as people, companies, organizations, and even the Government share information. This is causing lawmakers as well as citizens to start to question if their rights should extend to these places as well. The question becomes, should our rights have to be maintained by these entities.

By allowing the social media platforms to govern their sites under their own authority can give them the ability to make sure things like hate speech are not used on their platform. They get to decide what should or should not be shared. When this is used to prevent things like hate speech or cyber bullying, it is for the common good. However, those same platforms could use their power to decide that they only want to support members with very radical thoughts and ideals and not allow those who think more openly or progressively a place to share their ideas. Many of us have also seen where these platforms have removed things that were innocuous and not promoting harm. And they fall back to that it violates the ToS, Terms of Service. There is no outside oversight to make sure they are allowing the exchange of open thought and communication.

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As a blogger, I am dependent on freedom of speech. Being able to share my point of view is essential for what I do, but that doesn’t remove my obligation to research my facts and ensure that I am not using speech that violates someone else’s freedom or incites acts of violence. The truth is that my host site could decide that what I post violates their ToS and take my site down.

So, do we allow the government to decide to extend the First Amendment to include social media platforms? There Is reason to say that it should be. After all, if it is Constitutional for us to have freedom of speech across all areas, it allows us to be able to share our own thoughts without someone telling us we cannot. It would prevent companies deciding if the things we say align with their agendas and policies. Those agendas and policies would have to align with the Constitution. But who watches the Government to ensure we get that freedom?

The First Amendment does not give us the right to use hate speech, liable, or inciting lawless action, such as threats. During this presidency, we have watched as Trump has made comments that are very close to the very things the Amendment does not protect. We have seen cases that are extremely close to liable being played out in the “debates.”  We have heard him say in his rallies that people he calls “spies” be handled like they used to be. These remarks were about a whistleblower who leaked information about a call Trump had with Ukraine officials. That isn’t to say that there hasn’t been similar remarks made by other people, aiming, what can be perceived as, threats towards the president. 

“Everyone is in favor of free speech. Hardly a day passes without its being extolled, but some people’s idea of it is that they are free to say what they like, but if anyone else says anything back, that is an outrage.”

Winston Churchill

Yes, there is a cause to worry over social media giants having unrestrained control over the information they decide to allow on their various platforms. If it prohibits our rights of free speech, then it truly is an issue. No single entity should have the right to decide what is or is not free speech, other than the judicial department. There should also be a worry when elected officials can make allegations that are defamatory or inflammatory in nature. If they violate free speech, they too should be held accountable.

Winston Churchill said “Everyone is in favor of free speech. Hardly a day passes without its being extolled, but some people’s idea of it is that they are free to say what they like, but if anyone else says anything back, that is an outrage.” Freedom of speech is for all and with the consequence that you may receive pushback for your statements. That pushback is the freedom others have; you cannot clamor for your free speech without accepting others freedom as well. Yes, reform needs to be made and our certain inalienable rights should follow us to all aspects of our interactions. IF we are not allowed our freedom it is our given right to challenge those that wish to take them away or suppress them.

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