Opinion: Time Has Come To Extend First Amendment Reach To Powerful, Private Social Media Entities

Isheka N. Harrison
Written by Isheka N. Harrison
First Amendment
Photo via giphy.

In a nation where freedom of speech is supposed to be a core value, there is a lot of censorship happening. Often it’s the voices of dissent that disagree with ‘the powers that be’ who find themselves being silenced. While the First Amendment was written to protect individuals and entities from such acts by the government, the American Bar Association (ABA) argues the law should extend to powerful, private social media entities like Facebook and Twitter.

Facebook has come under fire on multiple occasions for censoring users who rail against the establishment that are disproportionately Black activists. Just last week, Facebook banned Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan for violating its community standards on dangerous individuals and organizations.

In an op-ed published on ABA’s website, David Hudson Jr., said such behavior highlights the necessity for First Amendment protections to extend to social media entities like Facebook, Twitter and the like. Hudson argues that failure to do so deprives individuals of self-fulfillment.

“Individual self-fulfillment, often associated with the liberty theory, posits that people need and crave the ability to express themselves to become fully functioning individuals. Censorship stunts personal growth and individual expansion,” Hudson wrote.

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He uses the court case, Packingham vs. North Carolina, to underscore Justice Anthony Kennedy’s position that “social media networking sites have become the modern-day equivalent of traditional public forums like public parks and public streets.”

To leave powerful, private social media entities unchecked with the power to mute users anytime they see fit is dangerous to the very foundation of the American ideals of freedom of expression and the marketplace of ideas, Hudson argued.

The situation becomes even more dangerous when those being censored are disproportionately Blacks who call out racism and injustice. The public policy director at Facebook, Neil Potts, admitted “that Facebook doesn’t always read the room correctly, confusing advocacy and commentary on racism and white complicity in anti-blackness with attacks on a protected group of people,” reported the USA Today.

However teacher Carolyn Wysinger – whose Facebook account was suspended after pointing out what she perceived as actor Liam Neeson’s racism – said white men’s fragility when a Black person challenges them is evident.

“It’s exhausting … and it drains you emotionally,” Wysinger said.