With President Donald Trump recently having been banned from multiple social media sites, the ability of social media companies such as Twitter and Facebook to censor speech and ban users is something that’s caught the attention of much of the United States population. As one would expect, it is a controversial and unprecedented topic. Many claim that actions such as these are violations of free speech, while others believe that it is fully within these companies’ right to do so, leaving much debate to be had about the matter.
The Bill of Rights included in the US Constitution guarantees Americans their civil rights and liberties, so it’s only natural that we try to protect them. However, to fully understand whether or not being banned from a social media site is a violation of the freedom of speech, we should look at the original wording of the Constitution. The First Amendment states,
“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.”
The main thing to notice here is that the First Amendment mentions only Congress and includes nothing about private companies. Social media companies like Twitter and Facebook are private entities and not part of the government. So while some of their actions may raise other questions regarding the amount of power they hold, they can censor and ban users according to their terms of service, which users agree to when creating an account. To directly answer the question raised in the beginning, no, banning someone from a social media site is not a violation of their freedom of speech.
Why is it then that so many continue to believe that the president having been banned is a violation?
Despite what the Bill of Rights states, some maintain their position that free speech is being violated. This could be due to ignorance and not knowing what the First Amendment actually states. It could be due to personal or political reasons. Of course, there are always other possibilities.
What about Parler?
Google, Apple, and Amazon: all companies that put the social media app, Parler, out of service. Likewise to our other case, their actions aren’t a violation of the First Amendment either because all of these companies are private as well. While, again, other questions might arise from this situation, removing the app isn’t violating our freedom of speech.
It’s important to know exactly what rights are guaranteed to us by the Constitution, not simply because it’s useful knowledge that all US citizens should know, but also to help prevent the spread of misinformation. Together, let us put our differences aside to continue to educate and correct ourselves, building a community where civil, engaging conversation can thrive.
Cover image: https://unsplash.com/photos/EQSPI11rf68
Written by: Ashley Sosa
Edited by: Meklit Tilahun