The U.S. Secret Service is investigating a poll on social media website Facebook that asked whether President Obama should be assassinated. Facebook complied with the Secret Service's request to take down the poll and now the Secret Service is investigating the creator of the poll to determine the intent behind its creation.
I understand the Secret Service's concerns regarding keeping the President and his family safe. In 1995, while attending The George Washington University, I woke up one day and the Secret Service without any announcement decided to permanently close down Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House due to security concerns. This occurred two years after the first attack on the World Trade Center and soon after the Oklahoma City bombing. These tragedies along with several other incidents made the Secret Service reassess the security measures in place to protect the President and the First Family.
I have mixed feelings about the Secret Service getting involved in this matter. I think the Secret Service should do all it can to protect the President and his family. However, my question is where do we draw the line in determining what is acceptable free speech under the 1st Amendment? There are many opinions
that I find distasteful and moronic; in particular, some opinions from members of my own extended family. Even though I may not agree with an opinion, I agree that everyone has a right to his or her own opinion and ideas.
Most interactive web sites have a Terms of Service/Terms of Usage section that discusses how the site can be utilized by its users. If a user is violating a web site's policies, the user can be barred from the website and the user's posts can be removed. However, I am not in favor of the executive branch of the government determining what is acceptable speech. In general, the legislative branch of our government creates the laws, the executive branch enforces the laws, and the judicial branch determines if a law is constitutional and how it may apply. These checks and balances have generally worked for more than 200 years.
This type of censorship by the Secret Service or other law enforcement agencies will increase with the rise in popularity of social media. I predict that one day that the U.S. Supreme Court will hear a case involving censorship of a social media website by the government.
Copyright 2009 by the Law Office of Bradley S. Shear, LLC. All rights reserved.