“Free speech is a triangle,” proclaims Yale Law School Professor John M. Balkin in his 2018 Columbia Law review essay “Free Speech is a Triangle” (Hudson 5). The triangle he refers to is, “at least three categories of speakers: nation-states, internet infrastructure companies and a variety of individual speakers” (Hudson 5). This is surely not what our founding fathers had in mind when they wrote The Bill of Rights in 1791. The original intent of The First Amendment was to guarantee Americans freedom of speech without government interference. Our founding fathers could not have imagined a world where an individual’s primary news source would be from social media. With social media being owned by private corporations and citizens can we be still be guaranteed the freedom of speech?
A 2019 report for Pew Research Center confirms that, “55% of U.S. adults now get their news from social media either ‘often’ or ‘sometimes” (Forbes 1). It is no secret that these social media companies use complicated formulas to determine who gets to see what information and when. Controversial comments and viewpoints can be deleted with the click of a mouse. Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook, has recently been under fire for allegedly showing political bias on his website by removing publicly posted information that does not conform to his own beliefs. How is this freedom of speech if someone else has the authority to remove content they don’t agree with? This behavior goes directly against the foundation of our First Amendment rights.
Recent legal battles relating to this matter have been largely ineffective as our legal system dismisses most of the cases upholding that The First Amendment does not apply to these private social media companies. Our own U.S. President was accused of violating First Amendment rights when he removed comments and blocked followers on his Twitter page when they wrote negative comments criticizing him on his policies and practices. Is this modern day censorship at its finest?
Our founding fathers viewed public speech as conversations in the old “pubic square” where people gathered to discuss and debate topics. Public squares of the 18th century are long gone but we can easily argue that our modern day town square is social media platforms. Americans should be free to express themselves on these platforms without censorship from the companies that run them or individuals that do not agree with our point of view. Perhaps we can take Justice Louis Brandeis’ opinion on hate speech in Whitney v. California in which he wrote that, “the preferred remedy to harmful expression is ‘more speech, not enforced silence” (Hudson 7) and apply that same standard to our First Amendment rights in this 21st century. We must not block out or ignore those opinions that we do not agree with but we should strive to freely express them to guide in our continuing search for knowledge and truth.