Civics Lesson on the First Amendment, Private Forums

The First Amendment to our Constitution says “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 peacefully to assemble and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

All too often on social media, email lists, web forums the old Internet News Groups – heck, we can back to the days of dial-up BBSs – someone who is banned from a forum cries “fascism,” “censorship,” and about their “freedom of speech.” They hearken back to the First Amendment. These people seem to forget the first five words of the Amendment: “Congress shall make no law…” Notice, it says “Congress.” It does not say “Facebook,” “Twitter,” or “YouTube.” It does not say some web site’s discussion board. It says, “Congress.”

You see, the First Amendment protects you from government censorship, not private, and even that has limitations. Possession or transmission of child pornography, inciting riot/insurrection, creating false alarm (“yelling fire in a crowded theater” when there is none), threatening public officials with harm or assassination, and leaking state secrets, are examples of speech that is not Constitutionally protected and carry criminal liabilities. Libel, slander, defamation, and copyright / trademark infringement are also not Constitutionally protected and are dealt with in the civil courts.

Private forums can and do censor speech all the time. If you don’t believe this, go curse your boss out at work, claim “freedom of speech” and see where that gets you. Or go to a friend’s house, curse him out, hit up his wife and daughter for sex and see how well that goes for you. In the first example, you’ll land on the unemployment line; in the second one, you’ll be cold-cocked and your friendship with that person will be finished.

While liberals have used the “freedom of speech” canard on the Internet for years, conservatives who clearly should know better have adopted the same false argument in the past few years.

Freedom of the press belongs to the owner of the press….

…meaning the moderator / admin of any group has the right to regulate speech, which almost always revolves around use of profanity, etiquette (keeping threads on topic, etc), “rooting for the other team,” spam, and trolling. A moderator / admin who does not do this will find their forum devolving into utter chaos usually in matter of a week or two, and this is proven. A person who doesn’t like the rules set forth by a forum is free to establish their own.

Moving up the chain, when you sign up to a website or social media platform, you are agreeing to a Terms of Service and to post in accordance with it. It’s a legal contract. Sorry, you don’t have “freedom of speech” on any social media platform. Yes, the system of government on social media – in any private forum – is Fascism, even in cases where the moderator / admin has an “anything goes mentality.” It may be “Benevolent Fascism,” or “Laissez Faire,” but it’s still Fascism – because the moderator / admin can change his or her mindset at whim.

Part of “freedom of speech,” is “freedom of association.” In a private setting, people have the right to associate with others who they feel comfortable with, share a rapport and to dissociate from those who cause them discomfort or who’s behavior and speech they find objectionable.

Editor and Publisher, LAN Infrastructure PM; IFR PPL; fishing, shooting.

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