Did Facebook just violate my First Amendment rights?
After disagreements on whether the First Amendment allows social media sites like Twitter or Facebook to legally remove former-President Donald Trump from their platforms, some experts say: Yeah. It does.
This is why Facebook — or other social media sites — can restrict your speech without infringing on your First Amendment.
What does the First Amendment say?
“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.”
That word in bold, Congress, is significant because it is the branch of government responsible for writing and drafting laws. The government — state, local or federal — can’t enforce any law that allows you to say some things, while banning you from saying others.
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media sites are private entities and NOT part of the government. Therefore, they aren’t restricted from limiting, banning, deleting, hiding, ignoring your speech (like comments and posts) on their private sites.
Why? Because they’re not subject to the First Amendment.
As civil rights lawyer Nora Benavidez wrote in a tweet:
The First Amendment protects freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly, & the right to petition the government for redress. It prohibits gov’t restrictions on speech based on the viewpoint of that speech. Twitter is not the government. This is not a First Amendment violation.
— Nora Benavidez (@AttorneyNora) January 9, 2021
Can you say anything you want anywhere and anytime you want?
In the 1919 Supreme Court case Schenck v. United States, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes concluded that the First Amendment does not protect against speech that creates a “clear and present danger of a significant evil.”
Also, 1969 case Brandenburg v. Ohio stated:
Speech that “is directed at inciting or producing imminent lawless action” and “likely to incite or produce such action” is not protected in the Constitution.
Twitter’s own policy states: “Violence, harassment and other similar types of behavior discourage people from expressing themselves and ultimately diminish the value of global public conversation.”
If you break the rules, Twitter has the right to boot you off.
Citing the “risk of further incitement of violence,” Twitter permanently banned Trump’s account after a crowd stormed the U.S. Capitol Jan. 6 filled with an angry mob of Trump supporters.
The next day, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg blocked President Donald Trump’s account “indefinitely.”