Twitter has been flagging some of President Trump’s posts that are negatively affecting the U.S. and worldwide population. This raises the question: Should influential people be accountable for the things they post on social media, or is that going against their own freedom of expression?
The First Amendment protects the importance of freedom of expression, but there are limitations. Furthermore, it is important to understand the First Amendment only restricts government action from infringing on speech, not action by private corporations such as Twitter.
Trump was upset when Twitter flagged his May 29 post about George Floyd’s death because, the company said, Trump had glorified violence in violation of Twitter’s policies for users.
Many people consider Twitter a public forum in which everyone can share all kinds of information because of their right to free speech. But in reality, Twitter is a private company whose ability to control the content posted by users is well established in the law and not a violation of the First Amendment.
Twitter’s policy against glorifying violence says the following:
“For these reasons, we have a policy against content that glorifies acts of violence in a way that may inspire others to replicate those violent acts and cause real offline harm, or events where members of a protected group were the primary targets or victims.” (Glorification of Violence Policy, Twitter)
In making the post, Trump used his personal Twitter account, @realDonaldTrump, rather than the official U.S. President account, @POTUS. The @POTUS account is managed by staff and has 30 million followers, whereas the @realDonaldTrump account seems to be mostly managed by Trump himself and has 82 million followers. So Trump does have a right to be free from government control of his personal speech on @realDonaldTrump, but there could be legitimate control by government policy over the official account, @POTUS.
“The question of what kinds of online speech a world leader should be allowed to post on social media is mind-bendingly complex, with tons of conflicting priorities and few easy answers,” according to Kevin Roose, technology columnist at The New York Times.
Trump’s post caused a big commotion all over the U.S. and the world, particularly during a time of protests following Floyd’s death. Trump responded to Twitter’s action by adopting an executive order purporting to change the way CDA Section 230 regulates Internet businesses such as Twitter. But the executive order is legally dubious and already subject to legal challenges.