UPDATE 5/16/2019: if anyone has been censored by Twitter or social media, go to this site to fill out your information. https://whitehouse.typeform.com/to/Jti9QH
This article is an overview of applicable statutes that have not been raised and implications of a current trend to ban political opinions; and it is meant to serve as a guide to provide options, context, and possibilities as to how every day users can take action to change this dangerous trajectory.
I’ve never been too “Twitter” obsessed (or any sort of social media) and frankly, wasn’t quite aware of what was transpiring in terms of people being suspended, “shadow banned” or outright kicked off. Sure, for egregious and really terrible posts, that’s a necessary step to take. But what about when that umbrella of removing actual violent content becomes an excuse to impose discriminatory censoring of certain beliefs?
Unfortunately, what has been happening goes far beyond limiting criminal content and posts (which is completely legitimate and a good thing). What’s happening here is a silencing of political opposition under the fake umbrella that it is harmful and offensive. While this has bugged me for awhile, Twitter recently gave me the “extra” time to finally write about it (see picture below) so I will attempt to inform you and anyone who has been banned or shadow banned WRONGLY for espousing certain political leanings as to what the laws are and what, if any, steps we can take.
How is Twitter able to do this?
America Encourages Free Enterprise and Business for Private Companies
AS WE SHOULD. This is a foundational principle of the United States that should never be infringed upon. Yet, it is this principle which makes the laws a little less “protective” for social media users that are banned. Private businesses (like Twitter) are able to impose their own company policies and regulations for people that utilize their services. In Twitter Inc.’s case, they provide the fine print “policies” that all new users must agree to before they can create their new “Twitter username.” These policies include “agreeing not to post any offensive, hateful or derogatory/violent content etc” and other things such as “which state you’re allowed to sue Twitter in” if you want to sue them. These policies, therefore, do not have to adhere to U.S. Federal laws, like, say, the Constitution of the United States. Twitter does not have to adhere to First Amendment rights of free speech or freedom of expression because the US Constitution First Amendment (and all Bill of Rights Amendments) only refer to what the federal and state governments of the United States are allowed to do. So, for example, Congress or the Iowa State Congress (or even public universities) can’t pass laws stating “you aren’t allowed to say you approve of President Trump” or expel students for speaking out about their approval of President Trump. But Twitter can.
When social media platforms become the main base of gathering knowledge and promoting widespread speech, they effectively bypass the government’s role in policing, providing for, and respecting our freedoms of speech, expression, and laws against discrimination in employment.
Here’s where it gets troubling. When the founding fathers envisaged a society where civilians would be free to express opinions or political beliefs or social/religious positions, they assumed rightly that this meant basic publication, public areas, and general freedom of opinion to engage in meaningful dialogue or respectful debate on a variety of topics and opinions. They rightly knew that the only power and authority that could limit, silence, and infringe on that freedom would be a government entity. They knew that “platforms” were mainly tangible, limited, and subject to availability: stages, parks, print, books, letters, etc. The world where Twitter or social media platforms are one of the sole, main, and most widespread platforms to engage in freedom of speech and expression did not yet exist. More specifically, a world where a person could be silenced from mainstream internet platforms for a political opinion and, thus, kept from gainful employment, viability or knowledge bases from which others gather information was not even a factor.
You may wonder, “Twitter or Facebook never seem to say, post, or provide any political leaning in their policies… perhaps the people that get banned or suspended really did say something ‘bad.'”
To be clear, Twitter will never publicly state or express that they will block all users who speak positively of Donald Trump or post about the potential investigation into FISA abuses that AG Barr has just launched. They would never do this because they’d lose high-power investors in their publicly-traded company and would suffer in the stock market. Not to mention the media circus around such a public disclosure would destroy their credibility as a viable business or online platform to invest in (remember, it’s about investors for them, not users). These days, the media is a powerful tool, and along those lines, so is the tool of “mass public opinion.” If a story came out that Twitter was engaged in horrendous abuse of their employees or in some shady illegal criminal endeavor overseas, no one would think twice about cancelling their Twitter account and calling for them to be shut down by the SEC. But Twitter doesn’t care about losing a few users – especially those pesky conservative voices that provide legitimate political arguments they don’t agree with. But they DO care about losing shareholders, investors, and credibility.
In doing this, Facebook and Twitter have become the non-government entities that will demand and force compliance of the masses in the style of George Orwell’s 1984.
Users like you and I don’t bring Twitter much money. $50 for an ad campaign to get a certain tweet out isn’t worthy of “equal protection” under Twitter laws like the billions of dollars from Twitter’s shareholders or friendly regulatory oversight from the State of California. Additionally, Twitter has become an employment tool, networking behemoth, and means by which American analysts, spokespeople, experts, and companies rely upon just to get BUSINESS. So when Twitter blacks out people and forces them out because we didn’t comply with their political beliefs, they are essentially denying us of the ability to market our brand and product – even if that product is our analysis and expert opinion on subjects. Like all red-blooded people that seek gainful employment as analysts and experts in journalism and media, we see that our opinions must conform to left-wing liberal ideologies or else Twitter will ensure that we are either “banned for ‘Twitter’s’ subjective offensive content” or “shadow banned with our posts never showing up – no matter how many ad campaigns we pay them for.” In order to comply and “please the almighty Twitter employees and contractors keeping eye on our feeds” we find a way to speak more in line with Twitter’s opinions and those they allow to post freely. To be clear, in this factual scenario, Twitter and Facebook are becoming the non-government entities that will demand and force compliance of the masses in the style of George Orwell’s 1984.
We should’ve known that as technology boomed and modes of communication and employment options geared towards the internet and tech options, political opponents and the great deep pocket state (& non state) powers would ensure they were able to bypass the Constitutional freedoms afforded to Americans by way of allowing online platforms to act as private companies with private “policies” that silence certain opinions.
What Needs To Happen Now
TWITTER & OTHER SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORMS NEED TO DEFINE WHAT THEIR VERSION OF “OFFENSIVE” CONTENT IS & BE DETAILED AND HONEST.
Right now, Twitter is able to get away with suspending people for offensive content because EVERYTHING IN AMERICA IS OFFENSIVE these days. We now live in a society where a renowned attorney professor and his wife can be fired from Harvard Law School just because he agreed to take on a defendant in a case in his private time, unrelated to his teaching, and that made the students feel offended and unsafe. (As a side note – I cannot wait to engage in any legal argument or debate against these future “lawyers” living in their safe glass bubble. Even my 9 year old neighbor would be able to withstand the difficult truths that would cause one of these Harvard students to seek “a 5 minute safety-zone recess” during trial.) So, under that definition of “offensive,” Twitter can (and has seemingly) basically made anything they disagree with offensive.
Twitter is violating their own corporate governance rules by not ensuring employees adhere to ethical guidelines of suspending or discriminating against users who espouse certain political, religious, or social opinions without violating Twitter’s policies on hate speech content.
In an era where thousands of online users are reliant on social media platform followings to market their articles, brand, or opinions for their own employment and livelihood, there must be transparency and clearly delineated definitions of the type of “content” that Twitter or others deem “offensive.” If it is any content that, say, supports greater border security for America’s southern border, or content that supports investigating potential FISA abuses used to undermine the Trump administration; then Twitter should be clear that offensive content capable of suspensions include “any conservative rhetoric.” We already know what’s going on, so Twitter should just be up front about it… wouldn’t you agree? Then, at least their shareholders know what they’re investing in.
BOTTOM LINE: FACTS
“Twitter” is comprised of employees – give them the chance to correct their unethical employees (or at least have the evidence that they were informed of wrongful actions by employees and did nothing).
Twitter’s employees may manually (or via algorithm) be engaging in these suspensions outside of Twitter policy and Twitter’s corporate governance rules which you can read here. You’ll need to communicate with Twitter and ask what steps were taken regarding your wrongful suspension. Then continue to gather what they respond or whether they refuse to respond to you. You need evidence and facts to report a case or issue like this to the SEC, BBB, CFPB, or any major US court.
Twitter’s executives and board members must adhere to their own corporate governance laws and ethics rules that they’ve submitted to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
According to its website, “The mission of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is to protect investors, maintain fair, orderly, and efficient markets, and facilitate capital formation.” This means the SEC exists to ensure that investors (i.e. shareholders, or people that buy stock in a publicly traded company) are given the full facts of how a company manages its policies, employees, and services. More specifically, “the SEC requires public companies to disclose meaningful financial and other information to the public. This provides a common pool of knowledge for all investors to use to judge for themselves whether to buy, sell, or hold a particular security. Only through the steady flow of timely, comprehensive, and accurate information can people make sound investment decisions.”
Now, let’s break down further the structure of publicly-traded companies (this is what Twitter is).
- Employees, Contractors etc: People that work for a company and are bound by company policies and governance in accordance with policies and US laws.
- Executives and Officers: These are the managers and top executives that manage the day-today operations (in Twitter’s case, @jack and other executives or officers of Twitter).
- Board Members: These are the people that comprise the Board of Directors of a company. They’re tasked with protecting the company FROM its executives or officers that may be violating or knowingly allowing violations of US laws and corporate governance documents of the company (specifically as it relates to publicly released SEC documents that the company and its officers/employees are obligated to adhere to).
- Shareholders and Investors: These are the people that buy shares or stock in a publicly traded company. Each shareholder becomes an “owner” of a publicly traded company. Ownership is comprised of the percentage or amount of shares/stocks that one owns. THESE PEOPLE are the reason that companies like Twitter (that allow free usage of its platform) have billions of dollars. As such, these people are the ones that SEC laws exist to protect. They protect shareholders from buying up shares/stock in companies who are not transparent about their operations or forthcoming or acting with integrity and ethical compliance in how they engage in operations. Twitter is violating their own corporate governance rules by not ensuring employees or contractors adhere to ethical guidelines by not suspending users or discriminating against users who espouse certain political, religious, or social opinions.
Arming yourself with the facts, people, and agencies that can truly institute change is the most important step in ensuring lasting change for Twitter or others to cease their discriminatory banning rules under the FALSE UMBRELLA of “offensive content.” Are the executives taking action on employees that violate corporate ethics rules and suspend people for peaceful and truthful political opinions? Is Twitter’s Board of Directors holding the Twitter Officers and Executives RESPONSIBLE for dealing with the employees, contractors, or algorithms that are suspending conservative political accounts that have engaged in no objective hateful or violent content? And, most importantly, are the shareholders aware that Twitter’s public (SEC-required) corporate governance documents (which espouse ethical compliance for its services) are being willfully violated under the disguise of “hateful content” in order to silence political conservative users?
ALL user’s that have been wrongfully suspended are IMPORTANT and have a right and duty to speak up. Do not think you shouldn’t complain, gather evidence, or report your wrongful suspension just because you have 50 followers rather than 50,000.
Just because you have less followers than other users, complaints and evidence gathered for wrongful suspensions of accounts (ie users that never engaged in actual hateful or violent speech) are all important no matter how many followers you have. This can be reported to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Twitter’s Executives (and then, when they don’t act to find the employees responsible), and Twitter’s Board. Finally, if nothing is done to address these violations of corporate governance, your evidence, communications, and information gathered could be provided to the SEC to assist them in ensuring that a publicly traded company adheres to its own corporate governance documents. Remember though, Twitter and other private companies are also liable to your representatives in Congress: don’t be afraid to write to them and provide them with all the information and data you have on your wrongful suspension and how they did not adhere to their own policies.
Just think of Twitter or Facebook as the Colorado Baker of social media platforms..
Twitter really should just come clean and explain that content they consider to be “offensive” leading to suspensions is actually just “conservative rhetoric.” Then, at least, the truth will be documented and available for all current and potential shareholders or Congressmen to be aware of before they decide to “invest” in Twitter or any other publicly traded online platform.
Know the best methods and avenues of where to report your wrongful suspension from Twitter. Then, gather the proof and report. Or, consider Instagram…
Corporate giants like Twitter and other major “monopoly-inching companies” don’t fear “Mary Smith” or a few user accounts deleted out of spite or trying to make a point. They don’t fear calls to “use other platforms” because they know they control the market and have more users by far than any other similar platform that allows 280 characters or garners the attention they do. Companies like Twitter fear regulations, loss of income, shareholder backlash, and shifting mainstream public opinion leading to dumped shares. Nothing sparks shareholder backlash like federal reports of poor business practices. This is where the Better Business Bureau, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and even the SEC are important. It’s also why the shareholders and Directors at the company in question are important.
Don’t forget your SCREEN SHOTS.
Screenshots are crucial in a time where a wrongful suspension, statements, and a discriminatory comment can forever harm an individual but be deleted in an instant. Screen shot anything you see (with the date if possible) that involves wrongful actions by bitter personnel, or even users that do far worse than you have but are never suspended or shadow banned as you are. Get the proof! Emails, communications, decisions, appeals, and apologies. Make sure Twitter deals with the employees and personnel that engaged in the wrongful suspension of your account.
Know the Federal Laws that Protect Online Platforms like Twitter. Don’t accuse them of things that they are not obligated to adhere to.
AND NO…THE FIRST AMENDMENT DOES NOT APPLY TO SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORMS ..
Twitter, Facebook or any other social media platform DOES NOT HAVE TO ADHERE TO the First Amendment of the Constitution. No private business or company that is not a government body or office is obligated to ensure freedom of speech or freedom of expression. Those laws are about what governments or government-tied public institutions cannot do. They are rights that say no official law can ever restrict speech content (not “no private company policy can ever restrict speech”). But the Bill of Rights does not apply to private companies. So don’t accuse Twitter or Facebook of infringing on your First Amendment rights because, well, it doesn’t apply and won’t accomplish much.
Look at it this way – if Twitter wanted to ban all Republicans from ever being users on their platform, that is their legal private business RIGHT. However, they would not do this because they’d have NO investors. No one would buy shares in a company that brazenly denied a political party from using its services. Even if it’s legal for a private company, it’s not profitable at the end of the day and you’ll be counting the minutes until you’re called to answer to Congress or the SEC. We’re dealing with an attempt to mask, hide, and defraud the public by pretending to be an equal access platform but then keeping conservative voices from thriving. Even allowing certain voices enough to say “look! we don’t do this” while conservative users need 5 times more time to get 100 new followers or 1,000 times the effort to get their posts seen. That is shadow banning and it is a violation of ethical corporate governance that Twitter claims to follow.
There’s one underlying body of law that provides safety and “blanket protection” for Social Media platforms like Twitter. That’s the Communications Decency Act of 1996. With the explosion of internet and social media postings giving rise to hateful/violent rhetoric, social media platforms were worried they’d be held responsible for any violent or horrific statement that one of their users posted on their platform. So, to maintain this newfound need for online interaction via social networking platforms, Congress passed the CDA which basically stated “online platforms will not be seen as stating any post or comment that comes from one of their users.”
Now, I’ve already explained that, because of the CDA, Facebook (and Twitter) have no legal obligation to care AT ALL what people post on their platforms. So why the sudden need to begin banning users or certain viewpoints? Why the sudden push for Facebook CEO to come before Congress and beg mercy explaining that things would be better soon and they’d do better to weed out “bad actors”? No new laws were passed, and no law was violated by Facebook prior to that. It was the angry Congressional democratic regulators after Trump’s win, the shift in public opinion, the shareholders, investors, and others that pressed the platform giant to conform. It wasn’t the users. Regulators (like Congress) have the power to hold businesses accountable. Think about what moves these company giants to change their policies and start from there to enact and engage in positive change. (hint: Your congressman or congresswoman is always a good step. However, they can’t go at it without any evidence so help their Congressional battle by providing your information. The unspoken rule in Congress is that 50 constituent reports or complaints lodges concern and action of your representative. Just 50…)
Are there any laws to protect conservative, non-violent users who have been banned or suspended but have not violated Twitter’s policies?
The simple answer would be “not necessarily.” Just look back to the case of the homosexual couple that sued a Colorado baker for refusing to make their wedding cake. The Supreme Court ruled that private companies had the right to refuse service based on their own personal opinions. So just think of Twitter or Facebook as the Colorado Baker of social media platforms refusing to provide service to certain users based on their political opinions. They have a right to refuse service, but will have to deal with the financial consequences, public opinion and all the other things that may come with that blatant discrimination. UNLIKE the Colorado Baker, Twitter is a publicly traded company meaning that they must adhere to stricter guidelines that a sole proprietorship. My problem with Twitter is its masquerading as “equal access” service provider and then banning under the shameful guise of “you’ve been suspended for horrific content” because you posted something positive about Donald Trump.
My goal has always been to arm people with facts so that you may never feel powerless in this world.
Additionally, when America starts to censor and silence people for “religious reasons” (e.g. banning a user for offending a religion such as Islam), we come dangerously close to erasing that First Amendment foundation we stand on. Actually, Middle Eastern countries and regions have a word for these types of actions and laws. They’re called Blasphemy laws and they can result in a brutal honor killing or, for Asia Bibi, 10 years on death row in Pakistan.
All I ask of Twitter or social media platform giants is this: just be honest about who you’re discriminating against on your platform. Be honest about which groups your protecting as you silencing and ban the rest of us. Stop pretending to be an equal access service provider. Be confident in your political opinions rather than set on silencing the opposition. All those who silence others fear Truth. Those who live confidently in what they believe and learn don’t fear opposition, debate, or facts.