No Virginia, the Internet is not free

January 10, 2021

As Donald Trump is de-platformed and banned from internet spaces from Twitter to PornHub, there are two camps: those joyously celebrating and those screaming about a violation of 1st Amendment rights. The truth lies somewhere in the middle.

Donald Trump is being banned from a variety of online spaces, ostensibly for inciting insurrection on January 6 which appears to be in violation of various terms of service. This seems like bolting what remains of the barn doors after the horse has kicked it to splinters. My issue with de-platforming is the uneven enforcement of rules. It has taken Twitter more than four years to remove a large number of accounts from the service. On Facebook black and brown voices are more likely to be silenced for calling white people out than white people are for racist behavior. So while there are a number of people celebrating, it is worth remembering that this is the first time a number of personalities are facing consequences for TOS violations and it still isn’t being applied in a fair and equitable manner.

As many people are learning the hard way, the First Amendment to the Constitution protects your right to say whatever you want, but it doesn’t protect you from the consequences. The First Amendment applies specifically to government censorship, so private entities, as a matter of course, can decide what they want or do not want on their platforms, per their terms of service. Donald Trump, as of this writing, is still President of the United States, and while currently unable to post on any social media sites, he still has ready access to the White House press corps and the ability to preempt anything on television to address the nation. Additionally, the Supreme Court has ruled, on a number of different occasions, there are categories of speech that have little or no protections under the First Amendment. The most applicable, in these times, would probably be “speech integral to illegal conduct”, “speech that incites imminent lawless action”, and “true threats”. Arguing that First Amendment rights are being violated because you can’t post to social media is specious at best and deceitful at worse.

As a creator of content I made a decision to host what I write because a lot of internet companies terms of service give them ownership rights.
And yes Virginia, I do read the the Terms of Service, I almost flunked an online course because I was required to submit my work to Turnitin, who in their TOS said they could reproduce and use anything that was submitted to their service in whatever way they deemed, I refused. That is a story for another day.
The reason I bring this up, is while I host my own content, I don’t currently own the server on which it is hosted, meaning I am still governed by the TOS of my hosting provider and they, in turn, are governed by whatever rules and regulations are put in place by the companies that provide their bandwidth. Meaning, that should I violate the agreed to terms my website can and would be taken offline. Even if I were to run my own server out of my home, I would still be governed by the terms of my internet service provider and they too would be well within their rights to take it off-line for violation of those terms and unless the government told them to do it, my First Amendment rights would not be violated unless it was in the protected speech category.