The 1st Amendment and Social Media

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.

This part of the Constitution has always been an important and precious privilege granted to us Americans. It includes parts of our lives relating to the freedom to worship or not to worship, the right to peaceably assemble and protest, and the right to speak your mind without government interference.

In response to the attempted coup at the Capitol building, social media platforms have removed President Trump’s ability to communicate with his followers–on Twitter alone the President boasts 88 million followers. Twitter explained their decision as follows:

After close review of recent Tweets from the @realDonaldTrump account and the context around them we have permanently suspended the account due to the risk of further incitement of violence.

I’ve heard a number of reactions to this decision, ranging from “what took you so long?” to “this is a gross violation of the freedom of speech.” Those who argue the first position believe the President has been gaslighting his followers and inciting violence–like yelling “fire” in a crowded theater (remember those?). Those who affirm the latter posit that this action is persecution against those who hold more conservative political and religious views–in short this is censorship.

It has been remarkable and shocking to watch the events at the Capitol building on Wednesday. It has also been, to a lesser degree, been remarkable to observe the reactions to it. I have friends whose opinions fall all over the spectrum concerning this issue. Last Wednesday is a watershed event for this country, and like many people, I will be watching to see what is yet to come. If you haven’t read President Bush’s take on the attempted insurrection, then I’d say it would be well worth your time.

I’ve heard several folks say that President Trump’s 1st amendment right to free speech is being violated. I do not agree. While the removal of the President from social media might be incredible to some, it does not violate his 1st amendment rights.

Social media companies like Twitter are private companies and can regulate those who use their platforms. Each of these social media platforms have terms of service and those who participate have to abide by those terms and conditions. Whenever the company deems a person to be in violation of those terms and conditions, then it can remove that person’s right to communicate on it. Participation on these platforms is a privilege that can be revoked. I have no doubt that this viewpoint will be challenged in the days to come. Perhaps the one caveat to this development would be having Twitter change from a “permanent” ban to an “indefinite” ban–but time and probably politics will tell. Emotions are running very high at the moment.

If there is an enduring lesson to these rapidly changing events, it would relate to what kind of presence we are going to have in our communities and yes, even (and especially) on social media. Let us move away from gaslighting and towards sharing of the Light. We need more light, and less heat.

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