You Ask, I Answer: Freedom of Speech on Twitter?

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You Ask, I Answer: Freedom of Speech on Twitter?

Savas asks, “What is freedom of speech to Twitter as a company?”

You Ask, I Answer: Freedom of Speech on Twitter?

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Christopher Penn 0:13

Oh, here’s an interesting one.

So vos asks, What is freedom of speech to Twitter as a company? Well, that’s a really complicated question.

Because Twitter’s a multinational company, which means that it has to adhere to the laws that exist in any jurisdiction where it operates.

And that also means that it is subjected to those differing laws and may have different policies based on where the user is, when they’re interacting with Twitter, the organization.

Now, in the United States of America, freedom of speech laws generally only apply to governmental organizations.


So if I was a senator and the United States, I could, I could there’s there’s some things that like if I wanted to say, and the government could not tell me no, I can’t say that right.

As a private citizen.

The government cannot tell me, I cannot say some things with a few exceptions, right? There is there are some exceptions for things like hate speech.

There are some exceptions for things like yelling fire in a crowded theater, which present a clear and present danger to the people around.

But for the most part, freedom of speech laws constrain the government on what it’s allowed to tell citizens of can and cannot do.

Freedom of speech laws generally do not apply to private corporations.

Right in the sense that a private corporation is not required to adhere to any of the laws that constrain the government, with the exception of laws like equal opportunity, hiring laws, those are some of the few laws on the books in the United States where the government is telling corporations, here’s what you must do, or must not do.

But for the most part, social networks are not constrained by law by the government to to guarantee freedom of speech.

Now, there are plenty of private consequences that can happen.

And I will continue to reinforce that this is for the United States.

Laws are different in different nationalities.

So for example, in the EU, within Germany, German national laws prohibit the publication or distribution of any kind of Nazi propaganda that comes that comes with a jail sentence.


So in that case, the national law supersedes anything that a private company’s Terms of Service would say.

And so if you’re in Germany, guess what, there’s a whole bunch of things that you’re not allowed to say, because it is literally against the law.

And that’s the law in that nation.

In the United States, what tends to be more of a restraint on private corporations is, frankly, a threat of lawsuits.

Right? So if a private individual is harmed by something that is said or done, there are laws like slander laws, which are laws that contain and give you the ability to sue somebody in if they say something untrue, about you, that is defamatory of your character.

Oh, I should also put up a big disclaimer at this point.

I am not a lawyer.

I’m a marketer.

Right? So these are my best attempts at ad expressing what I think I know about the law.

If you have an actual legal question, please ask an actual lawyer don’t ask a marketer on the internet.

Christopher Penn 3:53

Going on, there are libel laws which are effectively similar to slander laws, but they are they applied to the written word as opposed to the spoken word.

So if I talk trash about you on my podcast, and it is defamatory in nature, you can sue me for slander laws, if I put it in my newsletter, it falls into libel laws.

And so if I wanted to bring suit against somebody else on the internet, I could write Now granted, that’s expensive, lawyers are expensive.

Trials are expensive.

But for the most part enforcement of laws like that are left to private individuals and corporations.

Want a really simple example go try to resell some Disney stuff without their permission and you will find out real fast, just just how deep those laws go.

Because they didn’t your lawyer will show up to your house and punch you in the face.

Metaphorically speaking, they will be able to sue you for everything you’ve got for redistributing their intellectual property without license.

But freedom of speech as we understand it as a as a constitutional right, it really in the United States only applies to what the government can tell citizens that they can and can’t do nothing else.

Private companies can pretty much do what they like.

private individuals can pretty much do what they like, as evidenced by the fact that you can report people for spamming and stuff like that on these services, and nothing ever happens.

You can report people for abusive speech and stuff and things don’t happen all the time.

Now, to be fair to these companies, they have started to get better.

And the past couple of years, particularly around things like COVID misinformation.

But it still relies on you, the user to report it, there is no governmental entity overseeing it, really, nor should there be that’s kind of thing that we do want to encourage users to, to help enforce when you see something that is, you know, to be untrue.

Reported reported, there’s there’s reporting mechanisms, and if enough people do it, it triggers the algorithms that power these networks to either make an enforcement measure or to, to set it up for human review for a human being to review.

One of the best services that that does really well is LinkedIn, like you can report stuff to LinkedIn, and then you get an email, you know, an hour later a day later, maybe saying our, you know, our professional safety and trust team has reviewed your your report, and either said it was valid and measures have been taken or says that what has to be reported does not go against the terms of service.

And so you just have to deal with it.

So that really messy answer to a very messy question.

But in the United States, private corporations are not required to provide freedom of speech on privately held platforms.

The one exception is for any entity, any private entity that receives governmental funding.

So this applies specifically to things like colleges and universities.

If you take federal funding, then you are constrained at least in part, by those same laws that the government is required to adhere to.

So only if you are a fully private entity that does not take money from the government.

Can you completely ignore most laws about things like freedom of speech as a private entity or private individual? So thanks for the question.

Again, if you’ve got legal questions, please ask a lawyer.

Don’t ask a marketer on the internet.

Talk to you soon.


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