Trump, Twitter, and the First Amendment

Twitter shut down Trump’s account and Trump is crying “First Amendment!” “Free speech!” “Censorship!” The Constitution of the United States protects free speech. Any American can express their opinions, prejudices, truths, ideas, including criticism of government. This is a precious treasure of American government. In some countries, a person can be subject to arrest and seizure, in fact, imprisonment and even execution for speech that the government doesn’t like. It is remarkable that in the United States, citizens are free to say whatever they wish, provided it does not incite violence. An American can’t shout, “Fire!” in a crowed movie theatre. But that’s not the direction I want to go in here.

While Americans are free to say whatever they want, private publishers are in no way obligated to print whatever Americans want to say. I have poems that I want certain journals to publish. Some have declined to publish my poetry. Does that mean that my First Amendment rights are being violated? Is The Chicago Review compelled to print my poems because of the First Amendment? Of course not. I can publish my poetry on WordPress–and even WordPress can shut down my account if they wish. The same is true of Twitter. They have the freedom to publish whatever they wish, or to deny publication to whatever they wish. The First Amendment does not compel Twitter to publish anything Trump says at all. Twitter liked to publish Trump because he has an 88,000,000 plus following, and Twitter makes ad money off accounts with large followings like Trumps. But Twitter judged that Trump had inflamed the riot in the Capitol Building on January 6, and that he had the potential to incite more violence, so they shut his account down. They could have done so for lesser reasons. They could have shut him down for talking about the fly on Mike Pence’s head during the debates. Or for no reason. Most journals give me no reason when they reject my poems for publication. So Twitter suspending Trump’s account is in no way a violation of the First Amendment to the US Constitution. Free speech does not mean the right to be published. Trump can still talk, if anyone cares to listen. And this short essay isn’t about my trials in publishing poetry.

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