The First Amendment to the Constitution states:
“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…”
There is a lot to absorb in these couple sentences, however these are the words around which our American way of life is constructed. These are the words references whenever someone runs their mouth on social media. “Well, the First Amendment says I can say whatever I want…”
Is that really true though? Let’s look at a few cases and see how this constitutional right applies.
1. Getting arrested for criticizing the government
Most clearly, this is an issue that the First Amendment protects. However, depending on what you are saying, things can get tricky. If you are attempting to incite violence with your speech, you can potentially face consequences for your words. However, the threat has to have some sort of immediacy and actual intent for that to apply.
2. Getting banned from social media
While the First Amendment keeps the government from censoring or disciplining you for what you say, it does not actually apply to private companies or organizations. Social media companies like Facebook or Twitter can in fact block certain speech that the First Amendment would normally allow.
3. Getting your comment or post taken down from a website, forum, or social platform
Again, if the content is posted on a site of a private company, they have the right to take down certain content depending on their terms of service. When users sign up for a site, they usually have to agree to these terms. Sites are often protected by further laws that state they are not held liable for the posts or comments that people share. So while it may seem like a violation of our First Amendment rights, it’s best to check the Terms of Service before you make your post so you know what you’re up against.
These are just a few examples to further clarify the limits of how far the First Amendment goes when protecting your rights on an everyday basis. Knowing is perhaps half the battle in this case, but it doesn’t hurt to sleep on it before going and making your next online post.