First amendment and social media

Our side is corrupt, but the other side is more corrupt.

“You don’t have the right to yell ‘Fire’ in a crowded theater” is a long-standing description of the limit to an Americans’ first amendment rights.

That seems to be a reasonable limit for two reasons:

  1. If there were no fire, yelling ‘Fire’ would be a lie.
  2. That lie would physically endanger a lot of vulnerable people.

In the past that was not an onerous limitation because none of us frequented crowded theaters. Now that social media formats are ubiquitous, however, do the same limits apply? Do our social media first amendment rights still end where we express a lie that physically endangers a lot of vulnerable people?

If we use the theater example, for social media situations we would ask two questions:

  1. Is the statement false?
  2. Does it physically endanger a lot of vulnerable people?

The second question is addressed in the Twitter policy that prohibits the promotion of violence. That leaves the first question unanswered, which seems to be the sticking point for Facebook.

So, for all you Facebook users, remember–it is the right of every American citizen to spread lies. (Just don’t yell ‘Fire’ in a crowded theater.)


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