By now, most have probably heard about Twitter’s decision to permanently suspend conservative provocateur and activist, Milo Yiannopoulos.
Twitter’s decision came after a barrage of online harassment, aimed at Ghostbusters co-star Leslie Jones, resulted in the actress deleting her Twitter account. Twitter believed the harassment to be encouraged by Yiannopoulos, who has a history of using social media to make shocking and controversial statements.
Yiannopoulos’ entire online persona is based on pushing the boundaries of free speech, which has been a hot button issue as of late, especially as college administrations have cracked down on free expression on campuses all around the country.
Yiannopoulos has become infamous for being kicked off and even banned from college campuses for his controversial views, which has led to his hero-like status among many free speech activists.
Though many disagree with Yiannopoulos’ views on certain issues, some have found his passion for free speech admirable, even if the subject matter is often offensive to mainstream views.
While free speech is one of our most sacred rights protected by the First Amendment, there is a difference between limitations to free speech in public arenas, like most college campuses, and limitations to free speech from a private entity, like Twitter.
The First Amendment guarantees that the right to express oneself freely shall never be violated in any public arena or forum. Since most colleges are public entities, most administrations have clearly violated First Amendment rights when they seek to censor which opinions can and cannot be expressed on campus.
Such acts are completely contrary to the original intent behind the First Amendment and also do nothing to help expose impressionable young college students to a wide variety of opinions and viewpoints, something colleges are supposed to provide for their student body.
Twitter’s decision, though, troubling as it reflects the cultural shift towards limiting free speech, is still different from what is happening on university and college campuses.
While Yiannopoulos’ fans believe this to be a free speech issue and have even caused the hashtag, #freemilo to trend on Twitter, many have forgotten that Twitter, unlike college campuses, is a private entity and as such has every right to ban whomever they please from their social media platform.
Forgetting to make this vital distinction could lead to serious problems down the road, perhaps even resulting in the government being called upon to regulate a private entity’s right to associate, or disassociate with certain individuals.
However, Twitter’s decision, though different from what is happening on college campuses, is also one that could have grave consequences in the future.
Even though Twitter does have every right to ban Yiannopoulos, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they should.
True, some of Yiannopoulos’ statements have been pretty outrageous, to say the least, but it is up to Twitter users to decide whether or not they want to be exposed to his posts. Twitter’s decision to ban users they disagree with is a slippery slope and those who disagree with their decision have every right to vocalize their dissatisfaction.
In the free market, consumers have the choice to decide who they want to give their business to. If, for example, you do not agree with Hobby Lobby’s stance on Obamacare, you are free to patronize another business instead. The same applies to Twitter.
Free speech is one of the most important elements of a free society. Without it, tyranny is free to reign unopposed. Likewise, the right to private property is essential to maintaining our individual liberty.
To truly be effective when defending our precious civil liberties, it is important that we recognize the difference between what governments cannot do and what private entities are free to do.