DENVER (KDVR) — Over the past few days, Twitter has temporarily blocked or permanently banned tens of thousands of users, including President Donald Trump, for spreading misinformation the company says could lead to violence.
Now, many Americans are questioning why a social media site is allowed to restrict users’ freedom of speech.
Metro State University political professor Norman Provizer says the answer is relatively simple.
“The First Amendment applies to Congress. It doesn’t apply to companies,” he said.
Provizer specializes in teaching Constitutional Law to his students. He says while the definition of the First Amendment is clear, its application can feel fuzzy when it comes to social media.
“The First Amendment primarily is meant to keep the government from ripping up words it doesn’t like,” he said. “But at the same time certain individual institutions have become so powerful that we kind of almost substitute them for the government.”
Under the law, Twitter can ban a user for saying something that goes against its terms of service. However, no one can stop that user from saying the same thing on a public street corner.
“Absolutely true. And I think what happens is people kind of confuse the things,” he said.
The confusion gets more complicated because while Twitter can ban a user for posting something against its terms of service, a government official, municipality or other governmental profile can not force a social media site to ban or block a user or their comments.
According to Provizer, the First Amendment can only be invoked when the government is restricting the speech.
“Losing your access to social media is important because social media is important but it’s not the government doing it to you,” he said.
He says the national focus on social media and free speech as well as the evolution of technology and the way we interact online will likely lead to new interpretations of the Constitution in the future.
“We always readjust our freedoms. At one point in our history we’ll say the First Amendment doesn’t cover that. Another point in our history we’ll go, yes it does,” he said.