Douglas McKechnie, United States Air Force Academy – Government and Social Media

The government is now a troll on social media.

Douglas McKechnie, associate professor of law at the United States Air Force Academy, examines the new way we interact with our political leaders.

Professor McKechnie is an Associate Professor of Law at the United States Air Force Academy.  He is an award winning teacher and scholar who focuses on constitutional law and theory.  He has appeared in local, national, and international media outlets discussing legal issues in the news.  His scholarship, which explores the intersection between civil liberties and technology, has been featured in USA Today and citied by federal district and appellate court decisions.

Government and Social Media

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Americans have entered a new era regarding the way we interact with our government.  Technology has removed the traditional temporal, geographical, logistical, and normative impediments that filtered the way our government and elected leaders communicate with us.  We have entered an era where the government trolls its own citizens.  It is now commonplace for the government, through elected officials, to intentionally use abusive language to sow discord or intimidate citizens via social media. 

While it might seem obvious that the First Amendment would prohibit the government from trolling us, the First Amendment does not regulate the content of the government’s speech; it only prohibits the government from regulating our speech.  Instead, the Supreme Court has suggested the democratic process is the most decisive way to stop the government from saying things with which we disagree.  Perhaps, however, the democratic process is not the only remedy. 

Although the government and our elected leaders can speak for themselves, each of us has First Amendment protection from government efforts to chill our speech.  In fact, if nothing else, the First Amendment protects citizens from government actions that seek to regulate the content of our speech. 

As a result, while the government is entitled to say what it likes, when the government uses social media in ways that are intended to do nothing more than coerce or intimidate citizens from articulating opposing viewpoints, the First Amendment can act as the bulwark.  In those instances, the First Amendment must prohibit the government from intentionally using social media to discourage unwelcomed speech and compel preferred speech, just as it would with any other government regulation.

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