On the First Amendment and the Internet

Nilay Patel for The Verge, on just how far freedom of speech goes on the Web:

The First Amendment is one of our country’s most cherished institutions — and one of its most profoundly misunderstood. The confusion comes from those first five words: “Congress shall make no law.” Congress isn’t allowed to abridge your freedom of speech. That means the First Amendment only applies to the government, not private parties — as every kid eventually learns, your parents certainly don’t have to respect your right to free speech. “Most first-year law students don’t understand this point,” says Geoffrey Stone, a constitutional law professor at the University of Chicago Law School. “They think their employer can’t fire them because they criticized the president, and they’re wrong.”

That also means that the First Amendment doesn’t apply to Twitter or Facebook or Tumblr or any other private messaging platform. Twitter can delete whatever it wants, whenever it wants; no one raises an eyebrow when the service deals aggressively with spammers. Using iCloud? Apple explicitly reserves the right to pre-screen and delete data from your account “at any time” if it finds anything “objectionable.” Google and Microsoft have similar policies. Hate speech laws are debated internationally and generally unconstitutional in the United States, but Facebook’s terms of service simply say “You may not post content that is hate speech.” And pornography, history’s free speech flashpoint, is flatly prohibited without definition on every major service. We do not, as Justice Potter Stewart would say, know it when we see it; we are simply not allowed to see it.

This is a terrific piece. If you don’t read it and like it, you’re not hooked up right.

(via 512px)