2020 has been quite the year–a global pandemic, killer hornets, two Friday the 13ths, and a never-ending battle of free speech on social media. If you’ve dialed into digital news lately, you may have heard of the new(ish) app, Parler, that has taken on the platform of being “unbiased social media.” This comes after Twitter and Facebook received backlash and some concerns over users’ rights after deleting posts related to COVID-19 and the election.

While both social media giants hold that they are deleting misinformation to help stop the spread of fake news, others wonder if it’s an infringement on free speech.

So, this got me to thinking, is free speech actually protected on privately-owned platforms (hint–nope, it’s not) and how many users actually know what they are agreeing to when they create these social media accounts?

Political Science 101: What is Free Speech?

As someone who almost has a complete political science degree (hear me out–I didn’t think I could handle quantitative reasoning–I’m a words gal, numbers aren’t my thing), I consider myself fairly qualified to explain to you all what free speech is, and is not.

The First Amendment of The United States Constitution guarantees five rights to citizens, applied ONLY to government censorship. And by government I mean, federal, state, and local actors as well as schools, universities, courts, police forces, etc.

Those five rights are freedom of:

  • 1. Religion
  • 2. Speech
  • 3. Press
  • 4. Petition
  • 5. Assembly

But for today, we’re really only concerned about the freedom of speech.

According to the United States Courts, some Constitutional guarantees for freedom of speech include the right:

  • Not to speak
  • To protest war via symbolic means (ie. wearing a black armband)
  • To use certain offensive words and phrases to convey political messages
  • To contribute money to political campaigns
  • To advertise products and services (with limitations)
  • To engage in symbolic speech

Freedom of speech does not include the right to:

  • Incite actions that could cause harm to others
  • To distribute obscene material
  • To burn draft cards in protest
  • Amongst others

So where does social media come into play and do the same rules apply?

Social Media and Free Speech

So remember how I was saying the First Amendment only applies to government censorship? Well, your favorite social media platforms–though maybe tapped into by some governments–I’m looking at you, TikTok–are not government programs and are in fact, private companies who can more or less do as they wish.

Except, of course, there is the argument that social media is a platform for public discourse–should we be silencing some voices over others?

The Freedom Forum Institute offers this handy guide on some of our favorite platforms’ censorship policies to see what forms of speech are banned, and which ones are considered satirical, or political, in nature.

What’s now becoming the topic of debate is not if these social platforms are in their right to ban, block, and discredit fake news, misinformation, and extremist propaganda–they are–but rather, is it being done across all groups, is there a standard for removing content, and who is the vetting pool for such information.

Given the weight and responsibility of social media moguls like Mark Zuckerberg who has had to repeatedly walk the fine line of “hosting” platform, not “publishing” platform because that creates some murky waters for companies, users are now demanding accountability because as of late, all does not seem equal.

Users agree to terms and conditions for usage as well as community standards, but when your information is flagged, sold, and banned, you do have a right to ask, under what cause?

For now, some 2.8 million users have migrated to apps like Parler who claim to be open-minded to all content–but we shall see. After all, business is business.

Ah, 2020. Nothing can be easy, can it? Gone are the days of endless scrolling, looking for puppy videos on Facebook, or for pop culture news on Twitter. But hey, at least the people have options now… right?

Get Social With ENX2 Marketing

We know, we know. Navigating the rules of social media is complicated. But luckily at ENX2 Marketing, we have a team of social media gurus and writers who will make sure you stay within community standards while sharing your message. Ready to like, share, and post? Call us today!