President Donald Trump has often complained that America’s largest social media companies, like Facebook and Twitter, are censoring conservative voices. But even if they were, the First Amendment doesn’t apply to social media companies, and a video from President Trump’s latest rally in Florida shows that he (or, at least someone in his campaign) understands the concept perfectly well.
Investigative reporter Jean Guerrero posted an interesting video clip to Twitter in the lead up to President Trump’s rally on Tuesday. The video includes an announcement from the Trump campaign that explains how the event is a “private” function and that there’s a designated protest space outside of the arena.
“[While] we all have the rights to free speech, this is a private event paid for and hosted by Donald J. Trump For President, Inc., and you came to hear the president,” the announcer says, as her voice echoes through the enormous complex.
“To accommodate the right to free speech and peaceful assembly, while ensuring an orderly rally, we have provided a secure area outside the venue for all protesters and we ask anyone wishing to demonstrate to please exit to that secure area.”
If you step back and think of Twitter or Facebook as a private event, those companies have no obligation to allow you inside and can toss you out for any reason. Twitter can make you go outside of its own digital stadium, so to speak, to protest elsewhere.
What happens if someone tries to protest inside of Trump’s event anyway? Previously as a candidate, Trump encouraged violence against protesters, promising to pay the legal fees of anyone who “knocks the crap” out of people who look like they’re going to protest. But thankfully, the Trump campaign is not issuing an explicit call to violence anymore, provided you ignore all the other dangerous neo-fascist rhetoric against Democrats and immigrants.
“Despite this accommodation, some individuals may still seek to disrupt this event patriotic event, and President Trump needs your help in maintaining a peaceful atmosphere at all times,” the announcer continues.
“If a protest starts near you, please do not in any way touch or harm a protester. Please notify law enforcement officers of the location of the protester by holding a rally sign over your head and chanting ‘Trump, Trump, Trump.’ Encourage others around you to do the same until officers can remove the protester from the rally,” the announcer said.
If you want to be a shit-heel on Facebook, the social media giant doesn’t have to allow you into its network, just as President Trump has banned protests inside of his own rallies. It’s questionable that Trump can actually ban protests at his rallies since, unlike Facebook, he’s a member of the government and is literally infringing on the rights of Americans to speak. But social media companies, as private enterprises, aren’t held to the same standard. Either way, you get the idea.
You may not like that Facebook or Twitter has the right to kick you out, but that’s the rule. And even American politicians sometimes don’t understand it. For example, Josh Hawley, a Republican Senator from Missouri, is trying to pass the Ending Support for Internet Censorship Act that would prohibit social media platforms with millions of users from “censoring” conservatives.
The First Amendment has nothing to do with making private companies host your speech. And while Hawley’s legislation hopes to change that, it seems unlikely to pass. If it did, the nature of speech in America could change pretty dramatically with just a few tweaks.
Want to kick out the lunatic who’s currently shouting nonsense on your driveway? Too bad. It doesn’t matter if your driveway is private property. You’re not allowed to “censor” the protester as he sets up camp on your lawn. See the problem?
Update: I changed the language in the first paragraph to read, “the First Amendment doesn’t apply to social media companies,” rather than the original wording, “social media companies don’t have to uphold the First Amendment” in order to make the statement more clear.