Free Expression on Social Media

by Lata Nott, Executive Director, First Amendment Center

The First Amendment protects individuals from government censorship. Social media platforms are private companies, and can censor what people post on their websites as they see fit. But given their growing role in public discourse, it’s important to ask ourselves–what exactly are their censorship policies? How do they compare to each other, and to the First Amendment’s protections?

What can and can’t you say in the town squares of the internet?

Mouseover or tap each social media icon for more information.




Hate speech is speech that offends or attacks people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability, disease, or other traits.

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First Amendment:
The First Amendment protects hate speech from government censorship unless that speech incites or is likely to incite imminent lawless action.


Obscenity is famously hard to define, but in general refers to content that strongly offends the prevalent morality of the time.

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First Amendment:
The First Amendment protects pornography from government censorship unless it’s obscene. Whether something is obscene depends on contemporary community standards, and whether it has any literary, artistic, political, or scientific value — but nudity alone is not enough to make it obscene.


Harassment refers to unwanted behavior that makes someone feel degraded, humiliated or offended. We do not define it to include true threats of violence, which are banned by all of the platforms below and are not protected by the First Amendment.

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First Amendment:
The First Amendment does not protect true threats (serious expressions of intent to commit acts of unlawful violence) from government censorship. But some anti-bullying laws have been struck down for violating the First Amendment.



Facebook = Facebook
Google = Google
Instagram = Instagram
Medium = Medium
SnapChat = Snapchat
Twitter = Twitter
Wordpress = Wordpress


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