JMU political science professor clarifies that First Amendment does not apply to social media

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Updated: Jan. 11, 2021 at 9:55 PM EST
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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) — After last week’s events at the U.S. Capitol, Twitter suspended President Donald Trump’s account, and app stores have removed Parler, a new social media app, due to violent speech written leading up to the capitol riots.

A James Madison University professor says this began with misleading information about the presidential election, which platforms like Twitter have also been monitoring closely.

“Things have gotten out of hand, and the social media outlets have not been responsible enough, they have allowed a great deal of incendiary speech to occur, and they don’t have to. And that’s the bottom line,” said Bob Roberts, a political science professor at JMU.

Roberts says when speech crosses a line it is not protected by the First Amendment.

Some online users have said this is an infringement on their freedom of speech, but Roberts clarifies that the First Amendment only applies to the attempt by the government to censor speech.

He explains that Twitter is a private company with rules that users agree on when they sign terms of use and conditions. He adds that free speech does not apply to inciting violence, like the events that happened at the U.S. Capitol last week.

“It is the equivalent, in my view, and the court may disagree, of basically yelling fire in a movie theater. It’s the equivalent. There are going to be vulnerable people who are going to take that as permission to, in this case, take over the Capitol,” Roberts said.

He says political speech is broadly protected, but this was an orchestrated campaign over several months.

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