The First Amendment and Social Media

DISCUSSION POINT: Social media’s ability to control public opinion and lead to acts of violence are reflective of the real power they have over our daily lives. With the power of so many people using their platforms, social media companies have a responsibility to users, and they are failing miserably.

Talksonlaw.com says;

“Do you have a right not to be kicked off a social media platform?” is no! You have no such right. Many people are shocked to learn that the First Amendment free speech guarantee, along with all constitutional rights, only protects us against the government.

Nadine Strossen, professor of constitutional law, former head of the ACLU

If the government interferes with your freedom of speech, you can bring a First Amendment lawsuit to challenge that. And that’s true whether we’re talking about a federal government official or a state or local government official.

But guess what? Facebook, Twitter, the other social media platforms are not the government. They are private sector entities, and therefore, they have no First Amendment obligation to protect your freedom of speech. On the contrary, they have their own First Amendment rights-their media right. So, just as the New York Times or CNN, or any other traditional media platform has no obligation to host your particular message, the same is true for social media.

The real issue is how did social media get so powerful and why do so many people believe what they read on social media? Facebook has optimized the site to keep you coming back again and again. People with smartphones check their Facebook pages an average of 14 times each day. They scroll through news feeds while running errands, comment on friends’ posts while shopping or at the gym, post a photo of their food plate before dinner.

Facebook users spend 34 minutes per day using the platform, and 36% of people get news from Facebook. That’s the highest proportion among social networks, and it’s dangerous. With so many people using Facebook comes a responsibility to ensure that posts don’t incite violence or promote information that can hurt the public. In this area, Facebook has failed again and again.

According to SimilarWeb stats, Twitter was the 4th most-visited website in terms of traffic in October 2020, with 6.1 billion visits. The figure over the trailing six months ranged from 5.47 billion to 6.12 billion. The last official Twitter stats on the number of daily tweets stood at over 500 million. This was in 2014, this number may have increased since then — or decreased given the silence.

According to the 2018 Pew Research Center Twitter usage statistics, in all, 26% of US Twitter users check Twitter several times a day, with a further 20% claiming to the check it daily.

When surveyed, 81% of the top 10% of Twitter users by post volume said they used Twitter at least once a day. this compares to 47% of the bottom 90%, who identified as daily users

I work in healthcare and have seen the effect bad health information can have on patients and caregivers. The supplement companies are among the worse offenders, but anyone can post a home remedy and claim it cures a chronic condition, and there’s a good chance millions will see it before being flagged.

I believe in personal responsibility. I don’t believe most of the posts on social media unless they are from a reliable news source. It’s my responsibility to check the news I read to get the whole story before making snap judgements. Unfortunately too many people have the attention span of a gnat drawn to a light and spread misinformation too quickly.

Yes, Facebook and Twitter (and especially Facebook) have a LOT to answer for, but we can’t allow anyone or any social media to spread deliberate lies and calls to violence.

Originally published at https://www.newmediaandmarketing.com on January 18, 2021.

Marketing contrarian with over 15 years of developing leading edge and award winning digital marketing initiatives.

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