A group of researchers at Columbia University’s Knight First Amendment Institute wanted to know whether president Donald Trump’s routine of blocking Twitter users who disagree with him infringes those users’ First Amendment rights.
Privately-held Twitter Not a ‘Public Forum’
Law experts revealed that there are no free speech protections on Twitter, so the microblogging site decides who speaks and who listens, and so does Trump. If the company wants to silence the POTUS, it could do it, and if the president wants to block his followers, he could do it too.
Some experts argued that Twitter should be seen as a “public forum,” but that claim is wrong because it isn’t public in the first place. Twitter and the communications on the platform are owned by a private company.
That company can decide the rules on its private platform. This means Twitter users can freely block other users, for any reason, while Twitter can block just about anyone for not playing by its rules.
So, some experts argued that a court could not force Twitter to ask the president to unblock other users because such ruling would violate the company’s First Amendment rights.
How Far Free Speech Protections Should Stretch?
Since the start of the social media era, people have been wondering how far freedom of speech should go. Is it legal for Google to censor fake news sites or for Facebook to instruct its bots to favor a specific politician in its news feeds?
The answer to these questions revolves around another question: whose conduct the 1st Amendment regulates? The answer is quite simple: The government. This means that it does not apply to private parties such as Twitter and even one’s parents. In other words, kids don’t have free speech protections against their mom and dad. They have them against the government.
So, Trump blocking users on a privately-held forum does not involve any state action, so, his actions aren’t unconstitutional. They would be unconstitutional if the White House decided one day that the POTUS’ tweets should be viewed as official statements.
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