Is Twitter’s New Policy Encroaching on the First Amendment’s Right to Free Speech?

Veronica Adams – It is no surprise that political candidates favor using social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook as mediums for their campaign to cut advertising costs and guarantee their message will reach a large audience. Politicians have used social media, and specifically Twitter, as a way to relay messages and gain support. Up until this point, Twitter has made it known that it will not block tweets, a policy that graciously extends to politicians as well. However, in September, President Trump’s tweet of a video targeting Joe Biden enraged many Twitter users and political officials from the Democratic Party, as people believed that the video was not factual.

After President Trump posted this video, many users, including Senator Kamala Harris took to Twitter advocating that the president be kicked off Twitter. While some argued that president Trump could not be kicked off of Twitter for First Amendment reasons, Twitter pointed at their policy in which states that “Twitter may stop permanently or temporarily providing services or any features within the services to users generally.” Shortly after becoming involved in the controversy, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey announced a new policy for Twitter: no more political ads for the upcoming 2020 election. Dorsey recognized that his platform can be used to “influence and affect the lives of millions.” In effecting this ban, Twitter became the first of the major American social media platforms to take action against political advertisements.

Conversely, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told Congress in October that politicians and others have the right to free speech on Facebook. Mr. Zuckerberg disagreed with Twitter’s recent policy and expressed the need for political free speech on such platforms. However, Dorsey claims that advertising on social media platforms offers a level of targeting that is unfair compared to other platforms, and thus claims the issue is not about expression.

The ban begs a question, however: is Twitter, through censoring American politicians, putting limits on the touchstone of our Constitution, the First Amendment?

Both Trump and Biden’s campaigns have expressed their dissatisfaction with the ban. Using social media has allowed campaigns to cut costs on advertising while still expressing and endorsing their views. As a result of Twitter’s new policy, campaigns are now expected to spend the majority of advertising dollars on broadcast channels. Moreover, Trump and Biden’s campaign have expressed unified disagreement with having a private platform silence the ideas and positions which each party takes.

This issue is ripe for debate due to the modern nature of social media and the supposed antiquated language of the First Amendment where speech is restricted for governmental entities. The lower courts are split on this issue and the doors are open for courts to decide how to implement the First Amendment to modern day platforms. However, being a society that cares about freedom of expression, the First Amendment must begin to adapt and extend itself to cover forums such as Twitter which now serve as the modern day traditional public forum that the First Amendment was created to protect.

This sudden change in policy has awoken the masses, including politicians who are now forced to change platforms or spend more money on their campaign if they wish to post campaign ads. However, this change may seem small, but the long-lasting implications and precedent are monumental and very real. The door is now open to other platforms that may want to follow in Twitter’s direction. Further, private companies can and will begin to develop the mindset that they control Free Speech and have the ability to censor political speech and ads. But if silencing speech by politicians is the first step, where will our society take us until our First Amendment right to free speech is eradicated?

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