The Facebook oversight board’s decision this month to extend the suspension of former President Donald Trump’s account raised the ire of some on the right. Trump’s account has been frozen since Jan. 7, after he praised supporters who launched a deadly attack on the Capitol, but Facebook said it would consult experts to determine when “the risk to public safety has receded.”
“If Big Tech can ban a former president, what’s to stop them from silencing the American people next?” said Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel.
Conservatives’ reactions reflect a new push to expand First Amendment free speech protections to privately owned forums. Dozens of states – many of them run by Republicans – have proposed legislation targeting private companies’ policies. And conservative U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas recently questioned the constitutionality of private company control over user content.
Facebook Oversight Board upholds ban on Donald Trump, but opens door to possible return
Former President Donald Trump was banned from Facebook after his comments on the Capitol riots in January.
“The First Amendment only restrains government; it does not restrain a private company. In fact, those companies have their own First Amendment right to determine, as would a newspaper, for example, what will appear on their sites,” said Gene Policinski, senior fellow for the First Amendment at the Freedom Forum.
A discrepancy persists between what some politicians want from big tech and companies’ rights under the First Amendment, according to Ken Paulson, director of the Free Speech Center at Middle Tennessee State University and former editor-in-chief of USA TODAY.
“The bottom line remains that Facebook is a private company, and it has its own First Amendment rights to decide what it wants to put on its service,” Paulson said.
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