Other View: First Amendment doesn't apply to Twitter, Facebook

From the editorial: "Only the government grants free-speech rights through the Constitution. "


While fervent followers of President Donald Trump screamed foul and free speech when Twitter, Facebook, and other social media banned the president, they need to realize the First Amendment doesn't apply to private businesses.

Only the government grants free-speech rights through the Constitution. The First Amendment has no more power to grant anyone a Twitter handle than the Second Amendment requires a gun company to sell you a gun.

The First and Second amendments specify instead that, with a few exceptions, anyone can speak their mind and any law-abiding citizen can buy a gun. It guarantees those freedoms so government cannot take away your right to speak. That doesn't include compelling a private company to provide you with speaking "tools" like a Twitter or Facebook account.

The First Amendment does guarantee many variations of free speech. Under the First Amendment, the government, for example, could not prevent you from setting up a soapbox on a street corner and speaking your mind. It could not prevent you from distributing flyers or speaking at a public forum in a public place. The government cannot stop you from marching in a parade and carrying a sign.

The First Amendment even protects symbolic speech like burning a flag or kneeling while the national anthem is played. And the First Amendment has been invoked in recent years to protect "political speech" in the form of campaign contributions. Limits on contributions were ruled unconstitutional under the Citizens United case because the campaign donations constituted "political speech."


But when it comes to private companies like a newspaper or television station or social-media platform, the sovereignty of the stockholders rules. Investors in Twitter cannot be compelled to provide their service to everyone. It simply doesn't work that way.

If you think this is unfair, we can point to people to blame. Some 35 years ago, private broadcasters were required under the federal "fairness doctrine" to provide "equal time" for opposing political viewpoints. But you know what happened? Free-market Republicans like President Ronald Reagan and his cohorts did away with the fairness doctrine, figuring the market would determine who gets political speech and airtime.

So we got what we asked for: smaller government and less fairness.

If President Trump wants to use Twitter for his commentary and communication to his fans, he would be well advised to do something he says he's good at: Make a deal with Twitter. But the First Amendment cannot be invoked here. It doesn't apply.

— The Free Press, Mankato, Minnesota

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