After a series of increasingly incendiary posts late last week, President Donald Trump has been permanently suspended from Twitter, “due to the risk of further incitement to violence,” the company said in a statement on Friday. The move is one of several similar steps taken by social media organizations after a mob of the President’s supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol—Trump was suspended indefinitely from Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitch, and other social platforms last week as well.
Major tech companies also took action against Parler, a fast-growing social media app that had grown popular with Trump die-hards after Facebook and Twitter started cracking down on misinformation and violence. Apple and Google removed the app from their stores, and Amazon made plans to suspend Parler from its web-hosting service.
As private companies, Facebook and Twitter are well within their rights to suspend users who violate their terms of service, say two Northeastern law professors. But, says Woodrow Hartzog, professor of law and computer science, as social platforms become further enmeshed in people’s daily lives, it’s time to “rethink our entire regulatory approach to tech companies.” There’s relatively little government oversight of social media platforms, and even fewer regulations that have any sort of teeth, Hartzog says.
The First Amendment, which protects free speech in the U.S., applies to government censorship of protected speech, but not to private companies such as Twitter, Facebook, and Twitch, says Claudia Haupt, associate professor of law and political science. Further, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act protects websites from lawsuits if a user posts something illegal.