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"Freedom of speech," huh? A lot of people don't seem to quite understand what that means. If you want the short, short version, skip to the "TL;DR" at the bottom, but here's the long version.

Since I'm an American and I'm most familiar with my nation's own constitution, let's take a look at what it says about freedom of speech, shall we?

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

Those first few words, especially its very first one, are crucial:

"Congress shall make no law..."

The U.S. Constitution's enumeration of rights is written in a rather specific way, namely as a restriction on government power. The First Amendment means the government can't throw you in prison for, say, insulting the president. The Fourteenth Amendment is generally understood as making the rights enumerated in the Constitution applicable to the states as well, whereas prior to that the First Amendment and others were considered applicable only to the federal government, meaning the states still had the power to abrogate those rights. And of course, at no point was the First Amendment ever considered absolute. There have always been certain limitations. Those limitations currently include, but are not limited to, fraud, false advertising, perjury, contempt of court, incitement to imminent lawless action, "true threats," dissemination of classified information (i.e., state/military secrets), child pornography, and copyright infringement. Defamation can also potentially carry civil penalties.

But the language of the First Amendment says nothing about restricting the power of owners of private property to govern speech on said property. A parent is not violating their child's First Amendment rights by putting them in time-out for being rude and disrespectful. A grocery store is not violating a person's First Amendment rights if they kicked them out for swearing loudly and generally being a nuisance. And a website is not violating a person's First Amendment rights by moderating or banning them from that site. Here on VGC, we moderators have had to ban, either temporarily or sometimes even permanently, people who broke our rules regarding what cannot be said. If the First Amendment was a restriction on private power, we would be powerless to stop people from posting just about anything they wanted.

Same goes for Twitter and other social media platforms. As the Constitution is a limitation on government power, not of private property, Twitter's owners have the right to establish whatever rules they see fit that define what is and is not considered acceptable behavior, and implement punishments for violation of those rules, up to and including permanent bans.

The text of the First Amendment also implies freedom of association that stems from both the enumerated rights of freedoms of speech and assembly. The right to free association also entails a right to not associate with someone. For example, a private club is largely free to set rules on who is or is not allowed in the organization and and to kick someone out of their organization for just about any reason. Again, this freedom is not absolute, and there are numerous laws and Supreme Court decisions regarding this. For example, federal civil rights legislation prohibits private property determined to be a "public accommodation" from discriminating against someone on the basis of race, religion, national origin, sex, and disability, and some states, counties, and municipalities have similar laws prohibiting those public accommodations to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Private organizations have also on rare occasion been subject to limitations to who they can exclude (see Roberts v. United States Jaycees), but current jurisprudence has given them a lot of leeway in determining their membership (see Boy Scouts of America v. Dale and Hurley v. Irish American Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Group of Boston). But it's worth pointing out that viewpoint discrimination is not disallowed under civil rights legislation, which makes sense in that a person can help what their opinions and worldview are, but they cannot help what their race, etc., is.

But as stated earlier, businesses generally are free to disassociate themselves from those who break rules regarding behavior. It's a generally held principle that any place of business can refuse service to anyone, provided that the reason for doing so does not run afoul of anti-discrimination legislation protecting certain groups. A restaurant or night club can have and enforce a dress code. A social media platform can ban someone for posting racial slurs or COVID-19 misinformation. A video game message board can moderate someone for insulting people on the basis on their preferred platform. Et cetera.

As for other nations, to the best of my knowledge most if not all other developed nations that have basic rights enshrined in their constitutions or other national documents consider those rights to be protected against government limitation, not limitations imposed by private property owners on those on or using their property (again barring whatever limitations may be imposed by anti-discrimination statutes in those nations).

TL;DR version: Twitter is not violating anybody's freedom of speech by banning them for violation of the site's rules. That's not how the law works. Get over it.


EDIT: Corrected for typos and to add examples of relevant court decisions re: freedom of association.

Last edited by Shadow1980 - on 06 April 2022

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