Should Social Media Be Subject to First Amendment Protections?
Ray Davis, for 6 Sense Media
Freedom of speech is that pressure valve that allows a free society to remain free and peaceful. It's destruction makes chaos inevitable.
More and more we are seeing the large social media platforms censoring, demonetizing, and using algorithms to obscure, weed out, and silence the free exercise of speech on their platforms. This is particularly true when content creators and commentators are questioning establishment narratives on critical issues; the Las Vegas shooting being one example.
While we can all acknowledge that there are people who play fast and loose with the facts or sensationalize information, the blocking of all alternative discussion on important issues also incriminates those honest truth seekers not content to accept the "official" stories on events that are then used to fundamentally change our society, our policies, or our mindsets.
Frankly, legacy media and government institutions have time and again in recent decades demonstrated they are not always honest brokers of the truth or the public interest. Wars are sold, freedoms abridged, and our culture irreparably damaged by changes made using events that later prove to be utterly untrue or questionable. The emotion of the moment is capitalized upon to institute directions people would never agree to otherwise. In this environment and with the advent of new technologies, citizen journalists have taken it upon themselves to challenge legacy institutions and demand that money and power answer to the people the way this country is supposed to operate. The press was given its freedom to use to protect the people from power not to protect power from the people, as Justice Black beautifully articulates below. That has been turned upside down.
In the First Amendment, the Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to fulfill its essential role in our democracy. The press was to serve the governed, not the governors. The Government's power to censor the press was abolished so that the press would remain forever free to censure the Government. The press was protected so that it could bare the secrets of government and inform the people.
Justice Hugo Black (New York Times Company vs. The United States, 1971)
Social media companies and others have defended their crackdown on alternative voices under the guise protecting us from "fake news" or the influence of nefarious players. "Besides,"they argue, "We're privately-owned entities and not subject to the free speech protections guaranteed in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution."
The Constitution does specifically call out that "Congress shall make no law" denying free speech. State constitutions, because they must align with the federal constitution, have similar prohibitions. However, the claim is made that private entities, such as companies, aren't covered under these clauses and can limit speech they don't like within the confines of their privately-owned business. The constitutionality of that claim is for another time.
However, this same premise is being used by social media companies to parse and limit free speech. Their assertion is being parroted in the legacy media, eager to crush their alternative competitors, who have watched as their viewerships erode. The question becomes in an era where everything is privatized, where can a free citizen exercise his free speech?
Here's why social media is WRONG in claiming they are just another private business and why legislatures and courts need to get with the times and compel these platforms to permit free speech. The Constitution was written at a time when government was the biggest threat to freedom of speech and for a time when that freedom basically allowed you to go into the town square and state your views publicly without censorship from the government. A similar freedom was granted to the press.
In 2017, the virtual world is where people "peacefully assemble" to exercise their freedom of speech. These massive social media platforms ARE the new town square. They've worked vigorously to position themselves to be "the place to go" for discussion, dialogue, and debate. They profit MASSIVELY from people using their platforms to do just that.
Users on these platforms are NOT employees and subject to the rules an employer might set for his or her workplace. In fact, users freely contribute the content that the social media companies profit MASSIVELY from. The recipe is generally build a platform, get users to contribute content for free, place ads, take piles of money to the bank, rinse, and repeat.
Now, after establishing themselves as the new "town square" and profiting MASSIVELY from their users' content, they want to claim they have a right to sanction free speech? Ridiculous!
And why are they doing this? Because they're being shamed into doing by politicians interested in limiting speech they don't agree with since they lack the constitutional power to do it themselves. They're being shamed into by a tired legacy media establishment profiting from their monopoly on information that has demonstrated no fidelity in their responsibility to the truth.
The prohibition against Congress limiting free speech was not meant to be just a prohibition on Congress. It was meant to give the people a positive right to free speech in the public domain. Nothing qualifies so obviously as the public domain as social media.
In the 18th Century, that was a literal town square. Today Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other social media platforms have established themselves as that defacto town square. Limiting free speech there in that environment is the absolute equivalent to denying our 18th Century counterparts access to the town square to freely share views. This is an undeniable fact and the censorship by government through social media shaming must cease and be declared unconstitutional!
There's no one in the literal town square any more. People congregate on social media and denying people their freedom of speech there is the equivalent of the state pulling someone off a podium back in the day. Denying someone freedom of speech on social media platforms is the equivalent of denying them freedom of speech in the public domain. It is censorship of the first order and it needs to stop!
Freedom of Speech has long been recognized in enlightened circles a pressure release against violence and revolution. President John F. Kennedy once said, "Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable." What kind of speech is being very particularly limited on social media? Political speech that does not comport with mainstream views. Again, these are core foundational reasons we even have a First Amendment.
The only free speech that should be abridged on social media is free speech that would be abridged in a real town square under well-established guidelines and centuries of case law.
Beyond that, it is a complete violation of an American's freedom of speech in the 21st century to have their content removed from search results or placed so far down it can never be found. It is a violation to demonetize content on these platforms because the speech is controversial or political (again, within long-established guidelines). It is a violation of free speech to block or cancel accounts for expressing unpopular views.
Free speech cannot be privatized to deny its exercise. That's essentially what is happening. If these companies and their media and political backers don't see the light and stop the censorship, I think the time has come to determine whether these social media and search engine platforms are in violation of anti-trust laws. They must either respect the First Amendment or they must not be allowed to maintain their marketshare as part of the new town square.
Ray Davis is the co-founder of 6 Sense Media. He's a social commentator and author of Anunnaki Awakening. He founded The Affirmation Spot in 2007 and shares information, motivation, and ideas with hundreds of thousands on social media each week.