Opinion: Social Media is Limiting Our First-Amendment Rights

Artwork by John Flock ’22

By Dimitrios Donas ‘23

​​Over 4.5 billion people across the globe have access to the internet, making today’s society more interconnected than ever before. In particular, social media, which connects its users through posts, messages, and comments, has been growing exponentially throughout the 21st century. 

Social media permits anyone with a device to share any content they have created, allowing individuals to freely express their beliefs and opinions. Of course, social media companies regulate what is posted on their platforms for the sake of user safety. However, these platforms often misuse their power, allowing the biases of those controlling the platform to restrict the free speech of users.

Although social media companies such as Twitter have given a voice to more people than ever before, what happens when certain individuals’ rights to express their beliefs are compromised? Social media platforms claim to operate under “terms of service” guidelines, but they often disproportionately target users expressing beliefs opposed to their own, while ignoring the violations of users who are pushing agendas that are favorable in the platform’s eyes. 

Journalist Tim Pool has voiced his concern about the increased role of social media in determining what belongs on a corporation’s platform and what does not. Pool called out the liberal biases of social media platforms such as Twitter, who suppress users they label “alt-right.” 

For example, Twitter has banned Proud Boys members from the platform, citing violations of the terms of service in their calls for violence. Though it is true that the Proud Boys are infested with neo-Nazis and racists, there are far-left accounts that are equally (if not more) dangerous that have been allowed to remain on Twitter.  

For example, an Antifa-connected Twitter account released the personal information (addresses, phone numbers) of numerous ICE agents. Twitter allowed this tweet to remain on the platform, while the tweets of the Proud Boys and other similar groups were taken down. 

One cannot look at this series of events and state that Twitter acted fairly in dealing with these extremist groups. Twitter holds the right to ban problematic users; however, to preserve the right to freedom of speech of its users, they must enforce their rules to all users in an unbiased manner.

Aside from clear bias displayed in the banning of individual users, social media platforms have prevented the spread of certain information, citing “misinformation.” This term is problematic, as fact-checkers with clear political motives have the power to label information with this term and censor it. 

Facebook openly banned the spread of the theory that COVID-19 was leaked from a Wuhan lab, which was popularized by former President Donald Trump. Additionally, in September 2021, YouTube announced that it would ban all videos containing Covid-19 vaccine misinformation.  

The idea that a platform will restrict lies regarding the vaccine is not problematic in and of itself; however, the process of deciding what constitutes “misinformation” is.  This policy gives YouTube leeway to restrict the spread of opinions they may disagree with, regardless of whether this information is true or not. 

If Facebook, YouTube, and other social media corporations truly supported the First Amendment rights of their users, those running the platforms would not remove users for spreading theories that were not in line with their own belief systems.

Another headline suppressed by social media was the Hunter Biden laptop scandal, which had the potential to harm President Joe Biden’s election chances. The New York Post, a conservative news organization, had its Twitter account locked due to a report they posted containing incriminating verified emails from Hunter Biden’s laptop. 

Because these emails were likely compromising, Twitter censored a story that did not fit the narrative it wished to push. Following the election, the restrictions on such articles were eased, displaying how big tech has the ability to influence the information that society is exposed to through the use of dishonest methods.

Furthermore, following the January 6th Capitol riot, Trump was banned from both Facebook and Twitter. These companies contended that Trump’s rhetoric following his loss in the 2020 election incited violence, which is not protected by the First Amendment. 

If these platforms were concerned about dangerous rhetoric, they would surely restrict the accounts of prominent Taliban leaders. These accounts share propaganda supporting the Taliban, a terrorist organization known to commit numerous atrocities and target women for violence and abuse. 

Twitter’s censorship decisions are certainly questionable, as Zabihullah Mujahid, a radical Taliban spokesman, is free to promote Taliban’s extremist beliefs using Twitter, but Trump cannot use the same platform to promote his beliefs regarding the authenticity of the election.

While I certainly do not believe that individuals such as former President Trump should be able to spread false ideas on their accounts, I strongly contend that social media platforms must apply their rules to all offenders equally and without bias.