After the Silicon Valley imposed social media bans that President Trump received in the final days of his term, some have raised questions about the legality of big-tech’s move to censor accounts.

“From a legal standpoint, Twitter and Facebook are allowed to restrict the messages on their platforms,” Lawyer and Professor of Multimedia Journalism at Syracuse University J. Elliott Lewis told Scriberr News.  

“And it’s not a violation of the First Amendment, because the First Amendment only applies to government efforts to silence speech. Facebook and Twitter are private companies.”

Lewis also noted the importance of distinguishing whether or not these big tech social media platforms should be considered publishers.

“Should Twitter and Facebook be seen as… just a company that provides a means for people to communicate with one another? Or should they be seen more like… a publishing company that has to take responsibility for things that are channeled to others through them?” he asked.

Lewis said it’s a complex issue to navigate.

“I don’t think there’s a clear answer to that question. It seems like they’re trying to be something in between… Maybe in the 21st century, we’re going to have to figure out what level of regulation, or what level of self-censorship we’re comfortable with, with these types of new media platforms,” he said.

According to Lewis, there hasn’t been a clear answer for what type of companies these really are and “they’re trying to straddle the fence.”

“I think they’re trying to be a little bit of both,” he said.

And the recent bans have been alarming to those who are worried about the precedent that these bans will set for the future.

“It is kind of dangerous to think that this platform, where so many people now are getting information, would take the step of just shutting off certain accounts,” Lewis said.

Journalism Professor at the State University of New York at Albany and reporter Elaine Salisbury told Scriberr News that “anyone who is censored is going to feel pressed if they can’t express their thoughts, no matter what those thoughts may be.”

“I kind of feel like the question of whether or not [big tech] were allowed to do this should be shifted to are they just too big now?” Salisbury said.

Facebook, who self-admittedly has a history of removing or censoring President Trump’s posts, claimed that the President encouraged the riots at the Capitol, which was effectively a violation of their platform rules and warranted an account ban.

Subsequent to this, Facebook then decided to remove all content that mentions “stop the steal”, a slogan used by those who argue the 2020 Presidential election was stolen from President Trump.

Twitter also banned Trump’s account permanently, claiming that he violated their Glorification of Violence policy.

Supporters argue President Trump did not directly call for his supporters to attack the Capitol and cite that he has rebuked the riot.

As a result of the bans, some have sought alternatives to Twitter and Facebook, such as Gab and Parler.

Amazon removed Parler from its web servers to which Parler responded with a federal lawsuit. Parler was also removed from Google and Apple app stores. 

The removal of Parler from the internet added to the belief among many that big tech companies are actively working to crush competition, effectively monopolizing their power.

“AWS’s decision to effectively terminate Parler’s account is apparently motivated by political animus. It is also apparently designed to reduce competition in the microblogging services market to the benefit of Twitter,” said Parler in the lawsuit.

Several world leaders, U.S. officials, and those in the public sphere have also chimed in about the social media bans.

“We’re seeing now once again how dangerous these big tech monopolies are and how imperative it is… that we actually bring about solutions to break up the power that they have amassed,” Former Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard also said.

Pompeo also tweeted on Jan. 9, “Silencing speech is dangerous. It’s un-American. Sadly, this isn’t a new tactic of the Left. They’ve worked to silence opposing voices for years.”

Written ByLinn Win

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