As Facebook has become more strict with its regulation of who uses their platform and how they use it, many people are asking whether or not their actions are legal. Many are claiming that Facebook (which officially changed its company name to Meta) along with other social media sites like Twitter are violating freedom of speech. But, are they?
Let’s look at the legal definitions that relate to freedom of speech and whether or not Facebook is infringing on Constitutional rights.
What Is Free Speech?
Free speech refers to a right that is protected by The First Amendment in the U.S. Constitution. The First Amendment says:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Recently, the right to free speech has been debated as it relates to social media. Some people are claiming that social media platforms like Facebook are violating The First Amendment and engaging in censorship.
What Is Censorship?
Censorship is the suppression of speech and public communication. The ACLU describes it as:
“Censorship, the suppression of words, images, or ideas that are “offensive,” happens whenever some people succeed in imposing their personal political or moral values on others.”
Censorship can be implemented by private groups or the government, but it is only unconstitutional when implemented by the government.
What Do People Think Facebook Is Doing to Violate Free Speech?
Some people argue that social media sites like Facebook are violating The First Amendment. They believe Facebook is censoring users by:
- Removing posts and comments.
- Posting disclaimers and fact-checks on posts and comments.
- Suppressing the visibility of posts and comments.
- Deactivating users based on their posts and comments.
A majority of people who believe that Facebook is engaging in censorship believe the social media site is targeting conservative viewpoints. This belief accelerated when Facebook began regulating content related to COVID-19 and election misinformation and when it banned former President Donald Trump from the platform.
While there are strong arguments on both sides as to whether or not it is appropriate for media giants like Facebook to control everything that is published on large social platforms, the legal implications are clear. Facebook is well within its rights.
Is Facebook Violating Constitutional Rights?
People may claim that Facebook and other social media platforms are infringing on First Amendment rights, but Facebook is not breaking any laws.
Can Facebook control what is posted on its platform?
The First Amendment protects a citizen’s right to free speech from the government. It does not protect a citizen’s right to free speech from companies. If the government interferes with freedom of speech, you can put up a legal fight. But, Facebook is a company. It is not a part of the government.
Facebook is not bound by the same restrictions as the government. They can control what is posted on their platform without infringing on First Amendment rights. They can remove content, place disclaimers on content, and suppress the visibility of content.
The only exception to this rule relates to unlawful speech. Facebook is bound by laws that prevent them from sharing and require them to remove content such as child pornography, content that promotes violence and serious threats, and content that is protected by copyright.
Does a social media platform have an obligation to share, host, or post all ideas?
The First Amendment protects free speech in a public property or forum that is owed by the public or government. This property could be a sidewalk or a public park. But, it does not protect free speech in a private forum such as on a company-owned platform like Facebook.
While people have argued that social media platforms should be seen as public digital spaces, courts have repeatedly refused the argument. Facebook is not a public forum, and therefore does not have an obligation to share, host, or post anyone’s ideas.
Can Facebook deactivate users?
Just as Facebook can control what is posted on their platform, they can control who uses their platform. They are under no Constitutional obligation to allow every citizen to use their platform since it is a private space, not a public forum.
Access to social media is not a Constitutional right. Facebook can deactivate users as they see fit.
Is Facebook violating First Amendment Rights?
While the First Amendment protects a citizen’s right to voice their opinion, no private or public company is required to give citizen’s a platform to voice their opinion.
The government cannot censor a citizen, but a company is well within its rights to control what people post on their platform and who has access to their platform.
Knowing Your Rights
When it comes to whether or not Facebook is violating individual rights by controlling who uses their platform and how they use it, the company isn’t breaking any laws.
They have the right to remove users and manage content. People may think it’s not “right,” but it is legal.
If you have any questions about how your personal rights may have been violated, talk to an attorney who can give you an accurate look at laws and statutes. Whether you have been unfairly arrested for a crime or injured by a negligent party, talk to an attorney who knows your rights and will fight for you.
TJ Grimaldi is here to answer your questions. Request your consultation or call 813-226-1023 today to see if you have a case worth fighting for.