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Constitutional expert weighs in on freedom of speech and use of social media

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Posted at 12:45 PM, Jan 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-12 17:31:43-05

TAMPA, Fla. — In recent days, several social media and big tech companies have taken steps to de-platform President Donald Trump as well as Parler — a social media site favored by conservatives. The moves have led some to believe their freedom of speech is under attack, but as one constitutional expert explains, that’s not the case.

“You have First Amendment rights against the federal government, against the state government, against local government, but you don’t have a First Amendment right against Facebook,” said Ciara Torres-Spelliscy, a law professor at Stetson University College of Law.

Torres-Spelliscy said while freedom of speech is guaranteed by the First Amendment, it’s a protection of the people from the government, not the other way around.

“When Twitter and Facebook de-platformed the president, that is their prerogative as a private company. So if he is not abiding by their terms of service, they can deny him access to their platform because that platform is private,” Torres-Spelliscy said.

University of South Florida associate professor of political communication Dr. Joshua Scacco explained that tech platforms have had years to develop policies or apply policies they've already had in place.

“There’s a lot of risk here for these tech giants in allowing these types of behaviors to occur and to fester. We’re talking the Capitol attack happened in plain sight on many of these platforms,” Scacco said. “I think what the tech companies are realizing is that it is in their interest to get to the de-platforming stage quicker and before events like this occur.”

Torres-Spelliscy also warns if those inciting imminent violence, are bot going to be protected by the First Amendment.

“Your speech ultimately is up to you at the end of the day, but it does have consequences, and ultimately that’s whether you’re on Twitter, on Facebook, on a public sidewalk, or protesting in front of a government building,” Scacco said.

This story was originally published by Mary O'Connell on WFTS in Tampa, Florida.