Former President Donald Trump Banned from Multiple Social Media Sites

A breakdown of how the First Amendment applies to the recent social media bannings.

Former President Donald Trump Banned from Multiple Social Media Sites

Tia Munoz, Editor in Chief

Following the storming of the capital, former President Donald Trump was banned from a number of social media sites, including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Tik Tok, and more. This prompted an immediate response from the public. 

“Finally Trump is losing the platform he used to foment outright insurrection and violence. Finally, he will be barred from so openly fanning the flames of hate. I’ve long called on Twitter to take action, and tonight I’m relieved that it has,” Rep. Frank Pallone, of New Jersey’s 6th Congressional District, said in a tweet on Jan. 8. 

While some stood in support of the action, others opposed it, claiming that it violated the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights. 

“We cannot live in a world where Twitter’s terms of service are more important than the terms in our Constitution and Bill of Rights,” Rep. Matt Gaetz, of Florida’s 1st Congressional District, said in a tweet on Jan. 11. 

The First Amendment 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,” (Constitution Annotated). 

In other words, the government is not allowed to make laws that regulate the free exercise of religion, speech, the press, the right to peaceful protest, and the right to petition the government. 

While this covers multiple freedoms, there is also unprotected speech. These are categories of speech that the government may regulate. While they are not explicitly stated, the court typically defines these categories as obscenity, defamation, copyright, fraud, incitement, fighting words, threats to national security, speech integral to criminal conduct, and child pornography (Congressional Research Service). Any form of speech that falls under these categories is subject to regulation.

While these bannings have been called a violation of the First Amendment by some, this is not true. This is because the protection provided by the First Amendment applies only to the government censoring speech. Twitter is a private company, not a government entity, and is therefore not subject to the restrictions mentioned. 

“…When you sign up for social media accounts you agree to their terms of service. Also, Twitter is not an agent of the federal government; it is a private company,” Christine Sturges-Brown, government teacher, said. “This means that Twitter does not have to give you or I or the former President of the US the right to use the platform to communicate in a way which violates their agreement with their users.”

Private companies have Terms of Service that their users agree to prior to using the app. Like many other major platforms, Twitter’s terms of service allows it to pull content from the app that it deems violates their policies. On Jan. 8, Twitter released a statement explaining its reasoning for the permanent ban. 

“Our public interest framework exists to enable the public to hear from elected officials and world leaders directly. It is built on a principle that the people have a right to hold power to account in the open,” the post said. “However, we made it clear going back years that these accounts are not above our rules entirely and cannot use Twitter to incite violence, among other things.”

They also included an analysis of their policy enforcement for the specific case. There were two tweets from Trump that came under review. The first tweet came two days after the storming, and read “The 75,000,000 great American Patriots who voted for me, AMERICA FIRST, and MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN, will have a GIANT VOICE long into the future. They will not be disrespected or treated unfairly in any way, shape or form!!!” 

The second tweet came just moments later, stating “To all of those who have asked, I will not be going to the Inauguration on January 20th.” 

They were assessed under Twitter’s Glorification of Violence Policy and were found to be in violation of it, calling for the removal of Trump’s account. 

“…our determination is that the two Tweets above are likely to inspire others to replicate the violent acts that took place on January 6, 2021, and that there are multiple indicators that they are being received and understood as an encouragement to do so,” Twitter said.

In addition to Twitter, Trump was also banned from Facebook, another large social platform. 

“His decision to use his platform to condone rather than condemn the actions of his supporters at the Capitol building has rightly disturbed people in the US and around the world. We removed these statements yesterday because we judged that their effect — and likely their intent — would be to provoke further violence,” Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, Inc, said in a post.

While the deletion of the Twitter account is permanent, Trump’s accounts on Facebook and Instagram are banned for an indefinite amount of time until the companies’ newly-formed Oversight Board reviews the decision.  

The controversy surrounding the situation has brought section 230 of the Communications Decency Act into question. 

Section 230 says that “no provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider,” (Legal Information Institute). 

The law was put in place to allow internet companies to regulate their sites without fear of being held liable for the content. While many tech companies view it as the backbone of the internet, critics believe that the law allows companies to fall behind on keeping up with the removal of harmful content, and on the other side, allows them to go too far with censorship. 

This is not the first time Section 230 has been a talking point in Trump’s term. In 2018, the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act was passed, which stated that Section 230 does not apply to companies that knowingly permit sex trafficking on their sites. 

On May 28, 2020, Trump issued the Executive Order on Preventing Online Censorship. This came after Twitter began issuing fact checks on Trump’s tweets regarding the validity of mail-in ballots (Reuters). 

“Twitter is completely stifling FREE SPEECH, and I, as President, will not allow it to happen!” he said in a tweet.