There’s never been free speech on social media

Thom Dunn
5 min readJan 11, 2021
Image: Tyler Merbler / Flickr (CC-BY-SA 2.0)

In the immediate aftermath of the insurrection at the Capitol Building, every major social media platform in the United States decided to ban outgoing US President Donald J. Trump. These decisions were made in part — but only in part — because of Trump’s alleged role in instigating the violence that rocked the Capitol building.

For many people, this was seen as a relief. Trump has been one of Twitter’s most relentless plagues of hatred and demonstrably false conspiracy theories since long before he entered public office, and he has repeatedly violated the company’s terms-of-service. To others, however — many of whom lean conservative — this move was seen as an egregious assault against the First Amendment. What right does Twitter have, they ask, to silence a fairly elected President? If they can do this to a hundred-millionaire real estate con artist who swindled his into the highest office in the land, what’s to stop them from doing this to you?

The answer is: none, and nothing. Because Twitter, like Facebook and YouTube, is a private business that is not beholden to the First Amendment in the same way that the government is.

Historically, the rights of corporations to do whatever they want in the name of money has been a deified pillar of conservative rhetoric. After decades of GOP policies absolving corporations of any responsibility for anything, the idea of forcing a private business to publish the edicts of a government leader should be seen as far more authoritarian than allowing that company to choose who it does business with.

But there seems to be some confusion between free speech, and a free platform with a free audience. Twitter, like all social media platforms, is not an avenue for protected free speech. It is a business that offers a free publishing tool as part of its service. That’s not how they make their money, though. Their primary service — the one that reaps the profits — is advertising and data collection.

In other words: Twitter’s main product is people, which they sell to marketing firms.

That may sound dystopian and inhumane, but, well, it is literally true. By choosing to publish content for free on Twitter or Facebook, we are consenting to those companies selling our eyeballs and data. It’s…

Thom Dunn

Writer of fiction, article, songs, and more. Enjoys quantum physics, Oxford Commas, & romantic clichés, esp. when they involve whiskey. HATES Journey.