Does Trump's Twitter Ban Violate The Government's First Amendment Right To Compel Speech?
Last night, Twitter did what practically every other social media company has done this week and officially banned Donald Trump. This was a particularly big deal given that Twitter has been his primary means of demonstrating just how completely off his rocker he is every day for the past eleventy billion years. Or what feels like the last eleventy billion years.
Before finally accepting his fate, he attempted to take over the @POTUS Twitter feed in order to yell about his First Amendment rights and how this is an attempt to not just silence him, but the 75 million "patriots" who voted for him. He also yelled about Section 230, and hinted at starting his own social media company, so there.
That didn't work, shockingly enough. Then his digital director tried to give his own Twitter handle and profile to Trump, which also did not work. Too bad, so sad.
Trump's digital director Gary Coby just tried this out. Twitter blocked his account out within five minutes. https://t.co/wITiYy97sq— Alex Kantrowitz (@Alex Kantrowitz) 1610161582.0
Predictably, there has been mass outrage from the right, largely from people claiming that this is an absolute violation of his First Amendment right to free speech.
Silencing people, not to mention the President of the US, is what happens in China not our country. #Unbelievable— Nikki Haley (@Nikki Haley) 1610150208.0
It is, however, the exact opposite of that. It is the job of the government to protect the free speech rights of private citizens and, because Republicans fought so hard for corporations to be people, corporations. It is not the job of private citizens or private companies to protect the free speech rights of the government. To compel a private citizen to say something or a private company to publish something would be actually be a violation of the First Amendment.
This is a lesson Josh Hawley learned this week as well.
Now, I'm not going to say I am wholly without concerns about the power major technological companies have with regards to speech (and literally everything else), because I'm always of a "if they can use it to help us, they can use it against us" mindset. I trust no one, certainly not large corporations. And I'm not wrong, either. A whole lot of marginalized people — trans activists and black women in particular — have found themselves suspended or banned for standing up for themselves and have not been afforded the opportunity to rectify their situation.
That being said! Donald Trump was warned, repeatedly to stop screaming "fire!" in a crowded building and he refused to stop. He kept telling lies that were getting people hurt. He was inciting violence. He needed to be stopped for safety reasons.
I would also say it's a good thing because there shouldn't be different rules for people with power and people without power in the first place. If a regular person was saying things that could get people killed, they would be kicked off of Twitter or whatever, because they're putting people in danger. White Supremacist and former Breitbart writer Paul Nehlen was kicked off of Gab — the supposed "freeze peach" social media site — for doxxing someone and putting their life in danger. YouTube banned videos promoting "Miracle Mineral Solution" as a cure for COVID-19, on account of how it is bleach and drinking it could kill you. There is a difference between expressing one's opinions and saying shit that could get people killed. There's even a difference between just being an asshole and saying shit that could get people killed. That is why
People lost their lives this week because Donald Trump lied to his followers. His own followers lost their lives because he lied to them. That's not okay and it's not anyone's job to promote that. It's not illegal for him to do that, but if he wants to do it, he's gonna have to find some way other than social media to do it.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse