Donald Trump’s Attacks On Social Media Threaten The Free Speech Rights Of All Americans

Given that US president Donald Trump appears to use Twitter (TWTR) almost instinctively, his recent attacks on the platform may seem counterintuitive.

But his feud with Twitter is another example of the ways in which the president has routinely distorted the principles of the First Amendment in order to undermine the very freedoms he claims to be championing – as well as American democracy more broadly.

On May 26, Trump tweeted that – contrary to all available evidence – mail-in voting is plagued by rampant voter fraud. Twitter placed a factcheck label on the tweet linking to information demonstrating the falsity of Trump’s claims.

In response, Trump attacked Twitter, accusing it of stifling “free speech” and threatened to take measures to strongly regulate social medial platforms or to potentially close them down entirely.

On May 28, Trump signed an executive order purportedly directed at preventing online censorship, which proposes sweeping changes to protections afforded to social media platforms under US law.

These abuses must be recognised and challenged. Trump is making a concerted effort to disseminate false information regarding the integrity of America’s electoral process with the goal of eroding the public’s confidence in election results and making it more difficult for Americans to vote in the 2020 election. It is a direct attack on American democracy.

The First Amendment’s protections, commonly referred to as “free speech” rights, do not apply to restrictions on speech imposed by non-government actors. As a result, the president cannot legitimately claim that social media platforms are violating his – or anyone else’s – free speech rights. Put simply, there is no First Amendment right to use social media.

Moreover, the Supreme Court expressly recognizes that corporations and other private entities have their own free speech rights, and that the First Amendment prohibits the government from interfering in the editorial judgements of private speakers – including business entities – on issues of public concern. In other words, the government may not tell a private speaker what to include or not include in speech about such issues.

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Disclaimer: This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.

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