By Fiona English
Less than a week into 2021, the Capitol building was attacked and riots broke out. The Senate was forced to hide and barricade themselves inside. This event followed several tweets made by President Donald Trump, which sparked a ban on several social media platforms.
Following these events, I have conducted an opinion survey from FSW students to hear their thoughts on Trump being banned, the Capitol Building riots, freedom of speech outlined in the First Amendment, and the increased National Guard presence at the inauguration.
When asked if they felt that President Trump had incited violence (the reason Twitter claimed for banning Trump), 60% of respondents felt it was true and 40% felt it wasn’t true. FSW student Tatum Bates responded “.. First, it was telling white supremacists to “stand by”, that should have been a red flag in itself. He most definitely instigated violence at the capitol and very explicitly told them to try and do whatever they can to stop the “injustice” of the fair and legal election.”
Many students felt that Trump’s language and calls for action directed to his supporters were instigators for violence. In the tweets following the riot, Amy Enberg felt that “he did tell the rioters to protest peacefully (four hours too late) [and] he continued to repeat claims that the election was stolen. Those claims are the reason why the rioters were rioting in the first place, and repeating them again only acted as “justification”.”
On the contrary, some Americans felt that the Capitol Building riots were not incited by Trump but were the actions of people. Several anonymous students who responded to our survey also felt strongly about these bans.
“he did not directly tell anyone to break into the Capitol Building, he told everyone to protest.”
“The capitol building riots were lead by antifa..”
“I feel that [violation of free speech] is true as Trump and any other person has the freedom to say whatever they please as long as it does not hurt others…Trump never hurt anyone. He just said things that didn’t follow the agenda of the democrats”
For many, the topic of the First Amendment was brought up when discussing this topic. In our survey, the opinion of whether or not freedom of speech was violated was split 50/50. While freedom of speech is an undeniable right in our constitution, it also has several limitations. These limitations include libel, slander, obscenity, pornography, sedition, incitement, fighting words, classified information, copyright violation, trade secrets. Under the limit of incitement, that can include violence.
But whether or not Trump’s freedom of speech was violated, therein lies a separate issue, the platforms themselves. Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and all social media platforms have some form of policies that you agree to when using the app. Since most of these platforms are private corporations, their rules apply to the way they see fit. If the platform feels that someone has broken the rules or policies stated, they have the right to suspend or ban the account.
Following these events, President Biden’s inauguration called for 25,000 National Guard soldiers in D.C. This increase in security has left FSW students like Jessica Simmons and many Americans feeling divided over the state of the country.
“I am sad that this is necessary. But it was made very clear that there is a faction of people in this country that want to overthrow the election. I don’t know what a more appropriate use of national guard troops could be” said Simmons, “It’s very literally the defense of our democracy.” From here on, we can only hope to find better unity in our nation and seek to overcome the many struggles that 2020 has left us.