Sunday, September 09, 2018 by Isabelle Z.
As the internet continues to enable people to bypass in-person social interaction, savvy tech execs are doing their best to make people feel like they are somehow not missing out on face-to-face conversations. In this spirit, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey called the platform a “public square” while speaking before Representatives and Senators this week.
Although those of us familiar with actual public squares might find the comparison far more metaphorical than literal, he appeared committed to the idea, repeatedly referring to it as a “public square” and a “digital public square” before the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Senate Intelligence Committee.
That wording could come back to haunt him, however, as Twitter continues to ban people because of the comments they post to the site. That’s because the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution explicitly protects speech and expression in the public square – even when said public square happens to be under private ownership.
The 1946 Supreme Court ruling in Marsh v. Alabama set the precedent, as Breitbart’s Allum Bokhari points out. It stands to reason, therefore, that as a public square under private ownership, Twitter must protect its users’ First Amendment rights. Moreover, banning speech on the platform that has been afforded constitution protection violates the First Amendment. This means that Twitter should not be the arbiter of what people are allowed to say there, although individual users could decide what they’d rather not see using filters.
Of course, it’s not just Twitter acting this way; they were actually one of the last platforms to ban the controversial radio host Alex Jones after a coordinated suspension was carried out by YouTube, Facebook and Apple a few weeks ago.
After treading carefully initially, Twitter issued a permanent ban to Jones’s accounts as well as that of his show, InfoWars, this week for what the company says are violations of their abusive behavior policies.
In a series of tweets, the official Twitter Safety account wrote: “We took this action based on new reports of Tweets and videos posted yesterday that violate our abusive behavior policy, in addition to the accounts’ past violations,” the company said in a series of tweets.
It appears they also plan to go after those who are affiliated with Jones, tweeting: “We will continue to evaluate reports we receive regarding other accounts potentially associated with @realalexjones or @infowars and will take action if content that violates our rules is reported or if other accounts are utilized in an attempt to circumvent their ban.”
In his speech before Congress – which Jones himself attended – Dorsey said that the purpose of Twitter is to “serve the public conversation.” He said that it must support “free and open discussion” – but apparently that doesn’t apply if you’re a strong far-right voice.
Ultimately, legislators suggested greater scrutiny was in order when it comes to social media companies, with Senator Mark Warner of Virginia calling for an end to “the era of the Wild West in social media.” As allegations of a conservative bias continue – even President Trump has accused Google of silencing conservative voices – Attorney General Jeff Sessions said he planned to meet with a number of state attorney generals to address whether such firms are stifling free speech intentionally.
Sources for this article include: