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Intellectual Property

 April 07, 2021

Can Unpopular Speech Get Censored on Social Networks? Justice Thomas Chimes in on Your Legal Rights

Image of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas

As we all know, Trump was a big fan of sharing his freedom of expression on social media. But after one too many “tweets heard around the world,” he got blocked from using media giants Twitter and Facebook and now, one of our country’s most respectable jurists, Justice Clarence Thomas, is weighing in on the conversation.

Thomas wrote that while there is an unprecedented amount of speech occurring nowadays because of the platforms available, it is now accompanied by an unprecedented amount of control of speech by a few powerful organizations (cough cough, Google, Facebook, Twitter).

Let’s break it down  Is this considered a violation of the First Amendment?

Is kicking someone off a social media platform because of what they’re saying considered a violation of the First Amendment? Well, to put it simply, no it is not.

Why? It’s important to remember that social media platforms are owned by private companies. Because of this, it’s your responsibility to accept their terms and conditions, and violating them could get you suspended. In other words, it’s not these companies’ jobs to limit freedom of speech, it’s the government’s.

What are your rights on social media?

Social media companies restrict certain language and sharing for a reason. They don’t want any criminal activity happening, or violence, or bullying  issues that have often occurred in the past on these platforms that the owners are trying to combat and prevent from continuing. But what’s the line between limiting opinions and stopping violence?

In order to understand what you can and can’t do on social, look into the following language in the T’s & C’s and think about what you’re posting before you post it:

  • Bullying: Especially since the rise of cyberbullying, social media giants are cracking down on specific instances that are considered online bullying, like posting photos of someone without their permission, badmouthing someone and spreading false info about them, etc.
  • Harassment: Similar to bullying, harassment is usually considered anything that results in making someone feel degraded or humiliated.
  • Hate speech: This type of speech typically refers to when someone is posting words or photos that attack an individual or group on their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or other trait.
  • Obscenity: This typically involves nudity, foul language or something that is strongly offensive.
  • Misinformation: Anything that is false, inaccurate, a prank or insult is considered misinformation.

How will this impact the laws of social media in the future?

From Justice Thomas’s perspective, these tech titans house so much influence that we need to be wary of how they can block or obscure information. His opinion invites Congress to declare these companies “common carriers,” which basically requires them to allow anyone on their platform, regardless of what they believe or want to say. This would inevitably change a lot about the platforms and potentially could change what people believe and think.

A lawyer can help answer any questions you have about online legal boundaries.

Social media and other online platforms are constantly evolving, as is the world and the people who communicate on it. It’s important to understand what you’re getting into and what your rights are before you click the “Make Account” button.

That’s why having a lawyer can be a lifesaver for you and your family and can give you the peace of mind of knowing exactly what your rights are.

Pre-Paid Legal Services, Inc. d/b/a LegalShield (“LegalShield”) provides access to legal services offered by a network of provider law firms to LegalShield members through membership-based participation. Neither LegalShield nor its officers, employees or sales associates directly or indirectly provide legal services, representation or advice. This is meant to provide general information and is not intendedto provide legal advice, render an opinion, or provide any specific recommendations. If you are a LegalShield member, please contact your provider law firm for legal advice or assistance.


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