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Social media and free speech: Trump’s ‘deplatforming’ explained

Social media and free speech: Trump's 'deplatforming' explained
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Others still have argued that “deplatforming” — as in, removing the platform available to reactionary or radical voices — helps limit the harm that they cause.

So where does the truth lie?

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Is it a violation of freedom of speech to ban someone from a social media platform?

The short answer is “no.” The long answer is “no, but.”

Legal protections for free speech, like the American First Amendment and Canada’s section 2 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms protect speech from government limits, but not those imposed by private entities.

Think of it this way: Imagine that you, a playwright, wish to show your play at a local theatre. The proprietor says, “no, I don’t like you and I’m not going to like your play” and won’t let you rent or use her space. This is not a free speech violation in a legal sense. The theatre is a private platform, and the owner can say yay or nay to allowing you there.

If, though, the government says “well the play makes fun of us and we don’t like it,” and prevents the play from being shown, that is a more direct assault on freedom of speech as would be protected by the constitutions of Canada and the United States.

The “no, but” part of the question applies to the broader idea of free speech. As in, does a lesser tolerance for the free exchange of ideas among actors who aren’t governments lead to free speech issues, even if they’re not strictly limitations of the section 2 or First Amendment variety?

Some have argued that these legal protections should be expanded to social media.

Writing for the American Bar Association, David L. Hudson Jr. with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, says “the time has come to extend the reach of the First Amendment to cover these powerful, private entities that have ushered in a revolution in terms of communication capabilities.”

But it’s the president. Isn’t that different?

There are a few competing issues here.

The first is that even without Twitter, Donald Trump is the most able communicator on the planet. He has an international press corps who will attend briefings. He can phone in to his favourite television station. He can publish videos on the White House website.

The second is that if Trump has done wrong, shouldn’t other world leaders be held accountable, too? And if it’s just Trump, and rules aren’t applied equally, some have argued, including Russian dissident Alexey Navalny, that this amounts to censorship.



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