Date of Award
Public Policy Leadership
From the onset of the republic, the liberty to speak freely and debate openly has stood guard and helped preserve all other American rights. While this concept has endured, the means by which it exists in society has changed immensely. As the public forum has evolved to fit the modern needs of the citizenry, political discourse has become less a defense against tyranny and more a chaotic space of conflicting opinions.
In the United States, privately-owned social media companies have grown at an unprecedented rate, yet lawmakers have been slow to exercise any authority to regulate these corporations. For public officials posting information and interacting with their constituents on social platforms, the guidelines regulating their actions are, at best, ambiguous and, at worst, dangerous. When officials such as former President Donald Trump began conducting what the courts deemed official state business on their personal Twitter accounts, questions were raised regarding the legal status and legitimacy of government activity on social media websites.
Following a literature review of the history of public fora and potential policy solutions, this paper will present an understanding of the current rules that apply to the communication activities of public officials in digital spaces. The final section will propose a new series of regulations intended to clarify the rights and responsibilities of public officials who desire to communicate with the public over social platforms. Insights from this research should be considered by lawyers, judges, policymakers, and government agents attempting to reap the benefits of mass communication without infringing on the historic and traditional freedom of expression established under the First Amendment and relevant precedents.
Weaver, Nicholas, "Duality in Digital Discourse: The History and Future of the American Public Forum" (2021). Honors Theses. 1635.
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