Of course, there are exceptions. You can’t use free speech to threaten harm or illegal activity. You also can’t use freedom of speech to justify child pornography. What you say or create can’t meet the criteria of the Three Prong Obscenity Test (1). The restrictions are basically a legal way to say “use common sense.”
As long as you use this common sense, you should be able to speak, share, and create whatever you like with the support of the country’s oldest rule book. That doesn’t mean your statements won’t get you in trouble. Posts and comments have notoriously cost people their jobs, but the Constitution only protects your freedoms from the government (2).
Lately, however, this freedom has been called into question as the public becomes increasingly aware of the government’s monitoring through social media. Edward Snowden shed some light on the watchful eye of the government and just how much information they are able to gather about individuals on a daily and even hourly basis. Thanks to social media, it’s now easier than ever to keep track of your every move.
If these movements involve anything the government might deem as terrorist in nature, it could very well be used against you. And what are the words that are being classified as terrorist?
There are expected terms like references to established terrorist parties:
–> Dirty bomb
–> Ammonium nitrate
But, talk about the “extreme weather” in “San Diego” on your way to cross the “border” for your vacation with “la familia” in “Tijuana” and you can expect multiple government agencies to be throwing red flags all over your social media accounts.
The list of over 500 keywords means a lot of people are being targeted, even for completely innocent comments (3). In fact, the United States government accounted for 56 percent of Twitter’s information requests just for the first half of 2015 (4).
Targeting Social Media
When they’re not devoting their own man-hours to scouring social media they’re funding projects to make the job easier. In 2014, the government gave almost $1 million to Indiana University’s project called Truthy, designed to pinpoint “hate speech” on the web, which of course would include opposition to government agencies (5).
That means your own tax dollars are funding the algorithms used to let the government know just how much you don’t like the way they’re using your tax dollars. Even mentioning a government agency is enough to garner the attention of the likes of Homeland Security, the FAA, the CIA, the DEA, and the FBI, amongst others.
Recently the FBI has even used their findings to prosecute a 22-year-old from Queens, New York, who took it upon himself to tweet about his interest and foray into the known terrorist group, ISIS. Ali Saleh even went as far as to purchase airline tickets to the Middle East in an attempt to join ISIS (6). Using the information the FBI had gathered, they were able to stop Saleh from boarding multiple planes to Istanbul.
When presented with such cases, some Americans side with the FBI and other government agencies in their attempts to thwart terrorist behavior. But one can’t help but wonder what their reaction would be if they found that their public mention of even current events, such as influenza vaccines or the mass shooting in Oregon, could land them on the FBI’s latest watch list.
The accessibility of social media means that even concern for public affairs could be putting your First Amendment rights in jeopardy. As social media becomes increasingly relevant to every day life, the government will be provided with additional fuel for their fires… whatever they may be.