NewsLocal News


Constitutional expert weighs in on freedom of speech and use of social media

Posted at 6:29 PM, Jan 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-12 14:36:19-05

TAMPA, Fla. — Since social media and big tech companies have taken against President Donald Trump and the networking service Parler in recent days, some people believe freedom of speech is under attack. But a local constitutional expert explains that’s not the case.

“You have First Amendment rights against the federal government, against the state government, against local government, but you don’t have a First Amendment right against Facebook,” said Ciara Torres-Spelliscy, a law professor at Stetson University College of Law.

Torres-Spelliscy says while freedom of speech is guaranteed by the First Amendment, it’s a protection of the people from the government, not the other way around.

“When Twitter and Facebook de-platformed the President, that is their prerogative as a private company. So if he is not abiding by their terms of service, they can deny him access to their platform because that platform is private,” said Torres-Spelliscy.

University of South Florida associate professor of political communication Dr. Joshua Scacco explains tech platforms have had years to develop policies or apply policies they've already had in place.

“There’s a lot of risk here for these tech giants in allowing these types of behaviors to occur and to fester. We’re talking the Capitol attack happened in plain sight on many of these platforms,” said Scacco. “I think what the tech companies are realizing is that it is in their interest to get to the de-platforming stage quicker and before events like this occur.”

Torres-Spelliscy also warns if you’re inciting imminent violence, that is not going to be protected by the First Amendment.

“Your speech ultimately is up to you at the end of the day, but it does have consequences, and ultimately that’s whether you’re on Twitter, on Facebook, on a public sidewalk, or protesting in front of a government building,” said Scacco.