Free speech debate intensifies after big tech removes some accounts following the Capitol takeover

Free speech debate intensifies after big tech removes some accounts following the Capitol takeover
Twitter permanently suspended Pres. Trump following the Capitol takeover. (Source: Twitter)

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Debate is raging over freedom of speech after some big tech companies took down some accounts including President Donald Trump’s following last week’s deadly siege of the U.S. Capitol building by pro-Trump mobs. But a constitutional law expert says the First Amendment does not say that social media platforms must convey someone’s views.

The internet and social media platforms revolutionized how the world connects.

Prof. Lisa Collins is interim Director of the School of Communication and Design at Loyola University in New Orleans.

“When you look at mass communication, television, newspapers, radio; it’s largely, it’s a one-to-many situation. You’re broadcasting to the masses; the internet and social media is a two-way flow of information,” said Collins.

After Trump’s supporters overran the Capitol, vandalized areas, and injured some police officers, Trump lost his Twitter and Facebook accounts and that ignited fierce public discourse over whether freedom of speech is under attack.

Tulane Prof. Emeritus Keith Werhan is a constitutional law expert. He also worked in the U.S. Justice Department in Washington D.C.

“The thing to realize is that the First Amendment’s protection of freedom of speech applies only to governmental actors. So, it literally does not apply to the social media platforms,” said Werhan. “The Supreme Court has always been clear that the freedom of expression is not absolute. We don’t have a right to say whatever we want, where we want, however, we want.”

Werhan says even if someone states his personal view a person has no right under the constitution to demand that his message is conveyed by someone else.

“I have a right to say what I believe on a particular issue, but I don’t have a right to call you and say, I demand a spot on FOX 8 News tonight to get my views out,” said Werhan.

Parler, an alternative social media network attractive to some Trump supporters, also had its apps removed by Apple and Google and Amazon booted the company from its web-hosting service.

The CEO of Parler, John Matze is suing Amazon alleging discrimination and breach of contract among other things. He said freedom of speech is being assaulted during an interview on FOX News Channel’s Sunday Morning Futures show.

“We’ve never allowed violence, you know, we’ve never allowed any of this stuff on our platform and we don’t even have a way to coordinate an event on our platform, so they somehow want to make us responsible,” Matze said.

Collins said the social media platforms in question are private companies.

“You’re looking at private companies that run these platforms, so the internet is the wild west, the internet is the plumbing--is how ideas get spread but these platforms are run by private companies,” she said.

Werhan said social media platforms do not want to be seen as being responsible for any violence.

“They’re trying to strike the balance of allowing expression of opinion without being complicit in acts of violence which we saw last week can be deadly,” said Werhan.

Collins was asked if she expected new social media platforms to pop up to accommodate people who are miffed at the existing companies.

“I think there will be other companies but I think they’re going to find very similar quagmires because hate speech is out there and companies have a responsibility to police it,” said Collins.

She said Trump has numerous ways to communicate with the public as president including a press team and press briefing room where he can address the media and the nation for that matter.

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