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Clay Calvert Discusses First Amendment Rights in Regard to Social Media Platforms

Clay Calvert, director of the Marion B. Brechner First Amendment Project at the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications, participated in a discussion on First Amendment rights with “Good Day DC” anchor Jeannette Reyes. The segment was broadcast on the Washington, D.C. FOX television affiliate on Jan. 13.

Calvert comments on whether recent actions by tech companies to ban accounts violate First Amendment rights.

Clay Calvert

“That is absolutely not the case at all. The reality is the First Amendment only protects us from government censorship, not censorship by private entities and private organizations including YouTube or Twitter or Facebook,” said Calvert. “There really is no First Amendment question involved. It only comes in to play if there is a state action and there has to be censorship by a government entity or a government official, so in this case there is none.”

Calvert was asked if free speech was being limited. “This is a larger question. It taps into antitrust situations about whether these companies have become monopolies because they are the forum for how many people speak and converse today. So, the question is do we want tighter and closer government regulation of social media platforms on the internet? This would be almost akin as to how we more closely regulate broadcasters.”

He adds, “It would be possible to limit these companies, but it would bring serious First Amendment concerns that Congress would need to address and incoming President Biden would need to sign into law. But then again, it is kind of a slippery slope because how do we determine when a company or entity has become so powerful that they deserve greater regulation? We only regulate broadcasting more closely because they use the electromagnetic spectrum, they don’t own the airwaves and they get a license and the FCC mandates that they serve the public interest.”

Calvert also commented in “Discussing Twitter’s Ban on President Trump and Free Speech” broadcast on the Austin, Texas FOX television affiliate on Jan. 14.

“When President Trump was banned from Twitter it was not a question of free speech. It’s a private entity choosing to censor him. It’s more a matter of contractual issues,” said Calvert. “Has President Trump followed the terms of service or terms of use of that platform?”

“He [Trump] could take legal action against Twitter, but again a First Amendment cause of action saying ‘you violated my First Amendment rights of free speech’ would fail,” said Calvert. “I see this maybe fading away in terms of President Trump, but the larger issue is regulation of social media today because Facebook has become so powerful, and so has Twitter. I think we may see Congress trying to intervene.”

Posted: January 14, 2021
Category: College News, Marion B. Brechner First Amendment Project News
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