DENVER (CBS4) – While many debate whether Twitter’s indefinite suspension of President Donald Trump’s account was ethically right, social media and law experts say Twitter legally muted the president from their platform. Some Republicans have accused the social media giant of suppressing conservative voices and ideologies in favor of promoting a more liberal agenda.
While that can be debated, University of Denver Media, Film and Journalism Studies Professor Derigan Silver said Twitter indisputably acted within their legal right. Silver also teaches media, internet and first amendment law in the DU Law School.
“Twitter did not break the law at all,” Silver said. “This is not constitutional law, this is contract law.”
Silver said user terms and agreements upon signing up for social media platforms like Twitter supersede, and replace, First Amendment rights protected under the United States Constitution.
The First Amendment protects most forms of speech from prosecution by the government, known as “state action.” Most speech is protected on public properties.
However, Twitter is a privately-owned and operated platform where the company’s rules and regulations are the guidelines.
“A lot of people talk about corporation agendas,” Silver said. “Twitter can do what it wants to. (Trump) was using this system that wasn’t set up for government communication because it got around the media that he so much didn’t like.”
Twitter blocked the president’s account after many of his supporters departed his speech at The White House and breached the United States Capitol building. Trump was accused of inciting a riot and pushing an insurrection after telling his supporters to march to the capitol.
Some have argued Trump did not expect his supporters to physically make their way into the Capitol or to cause damage to the facility. Others said Trump’s lack of action or condemnation against his supporters showed he supported their actions.
Twitter cited their ban on inciting violence via their platform for why they suspended the president’s account.
“This is something that has been long anticipated,” Silver told CBS4’s Dillon Thomas. “This is something Twitter has been threatening to do for a very long time.”
Dr. Michael Humphrey of Colorado State University is an expert in social media. Humphrey said one of the biggest concerns among many centers around Twitter’s failure to consistently apply their rules and regulations. Humphrey noted many online were accusing the social media giant of picking and choosing when it would enforce its own rules.
Silver said, ultimately, Twitter was likely acting in its own best interests from the stance of a business. While federal law clears social media companies from liability when a third party uses the platform, Silver believed the company was still likely blocking Trump to protect its own financial interests.
“This is not about promoting one ideology over another. This is about protecting Twitter’s financial future, and making sure Twitter doesn’t’ lose users who blame Twitter for not doing something sooner. It is not really about them protecting themselves legally. It is about protecting themselves in the eyes of their users who don’t think they’re doing anything irresponsible.”
When broadcasting messages from government leaders was limited to television, radio and newspapers there was more oversight with dissemination. However, Silver said a larger discussion may be needed as politicians continue to grow their influence and reach on privately-owned platforms.
“Some of the largest platforms for discourse are owned by private companies,” Silver said. “It brings up a lot of issues that are very interesting. So, I think this is a great topic (CBS4 is) covering, and I think people should know more about it and talk more about it.”