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FIRST AMENDMENT RIGHTS: How does it work with social media?

ROCHESTER, Minn. (FOX 47) -- A needed move to protect Americans against violence and illegal acts, or a breach against our constitutional rights? In light of President Donald Trump being banned on numerous social media platforms, it's prompting some Americans to questions its legality.

"Don't take the bait," active social networker, John McIntire said. "Don't believe that freedom of speech is being curbed at all, when social networking sites say we don't encourage violence. It's a good thing that social networking sites say we don't want to encourage others in taking over the United States government."

McIntire has been there himself; he says he's been banned from Twitter a few times.

"I complained about it on Facebook," he said. "What else would a networking guy do than complain about it on another network."

But what does the law actually say? FOX 47 spoke with Minneapolis based civil rights attorney, Jeffrey Storms, to find out.

"Private entities do not owe any sort of constitutional rights to the general public," Storms said. "I think a lot of people are confused. They think they have a First Amendment right; I can say whatever I want, whenever I want and that's not correct. It's the government that cannot censor your speech."

While the law is clear, Storms explained the issue is much more complicated today.

"These institutions are quite powerful and part of our every day use. I think we are going to see more and more people challenge whether or not entities like this are state actors in some fashion," Storms said. "They control so much of our daily lives and widespread actors in our speech."

Storms says some bans could cause people to communicate and operate illegally -- which would make it harder for authorities to capture them. On the flip side, personally, he wants online domains to be safe for his own children.

"This is going to require significant, significant thought and analysis by people around the world," Storms said.

The way Storms sees it, there could be potential for a slippery slope.

"What point in time are we going to afford the power to private entities which a candidate or government officials can spread their message on sites," he said. "And if we learn that really, only four or five entities control or dictate that message, then that is a tremendous amount of power we are giving to those entities."

Monday, Parler filed legal action against Amazon for blocking its app on its cloud hosting service over the weekend. While no one can predict the future, Storms sees similar litigation playing out.

"I think it's going to create a lot of angst, as it's already created," he said. "My hope would be that we can see the country work through these issues and get to a place where we can live through the result. But I do think the result of us regarding free speech through Twitter, Facebook, etc.; is going to shape us in ways that we don't even understand at this time."

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Beret Leone

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