23 January, 2021

Freedom of Speech vs. the First Amendment

I am very careful on this blog to make a distinction between the two. Many people try to conflate them, and say that companies like Twitter are free to shut you down, because they’re a private company, and not the government. And the First Amendment only talks about the government.

Yes, that’s technically true, and it’s why I make the distinction. But there’s still a flaw in that reasoning.

Let me give you an example.

Let’s say you’re holding some sort of big political rally, or a protest. You are doing well, the crowd there is completely with you. You’re broadcasting on your YouTube channel and people all over the world are watching.

You are exercising your freedom of speech.

Now, let’s say I’m the head of the local branch of the power company. I don’t like what you’re saying. In fact, I think it’s “hate speech”. I cut your power mid-speech. No one at the rally can hear you anymore. You’re no longer broadcasting on YouTube. Your fans around the world are cut off.

I have just attacked your freedom of speech. I’m a private company, right? You have other ways of getting your message out. What? You didn’t bring backup generators? This is essentially the argument that people make about Twitter.

And it’s essentially true, for what it’s worth. I think this example makes it clear that the argument is ridiculous, though.

And here’s where it gets worse. What if the government looks into it, trying to determine if I have acted unjustly to you? And what if the government decides then that your speech was in fact “hate speech” and sides with me. You’re not going to like that much, are you?

And now at this point, the government has gotten involved and ruled against freedom of speech.

And that, my friend, is an attack on the First Amendment.

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