Role of social media debated in new era of free speech battles

FILE - In this May 16, 2012, file photo, the Facebook logo is displayed on a mobile device in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

WASHINGTON (SBG) - A new free speech fight is on the horizon and the big social media giants are at the center of it.

The debate looks at what some view as almost absolute power by social media giants in deciding what's posted on their sites.

Elizabeth Heng is a Republican candidate for the U.S. Congress in Central California and recently released an ad introducing her family, and talking about her parents surviving a genocide in Cambodia.

In the ad, she shows graphic images from that time and said, "Under Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge, being young and single often meant a gruesome life."

Shortly after the ad was posted, Facebook took it down for five days.

"They told me it was due to, it was inappropriate, sensational and disrespectful."

Hers is just the latest example of social media giants silencing a voice, following other high-profile cases like conspiracy theorist Alex Jones being benched from Twitter for a week, with many conservatives claiming they are being "shadow banned" for their viewpoints.

Historically, it's been up to the Supreme Court to define the bounds of the First Amendment. And ultimately, it may be up to the justices once again to weigh in. Already, we're starting to see lower courts grapple with how the public can and cannot use social media.

President Donald Trump recently lost a case in which he wanted to block some Twitter followers who disagreed with him. The judge made that decision in part because he uses his personal account for official business.

"Just like in a town hall, where if constituents show up expecting to have a free exchange of ideas, the government can't silence those voices and allow only those supportive to speak out," said Josh Geltzer, executive director of the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection as well as visiting professor of law at Georgetown Law School.

As many lawmakers have gotten involved, representatives from Facebook are reminding users that as a private entity, it isn't bound by the First Amendment. The company points to its community standards, which clearly shows it gets to make the rules by which we all play.

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