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Want to know what is on our minds? Find blog posts written here, by the City Club staff, members, and partners. Every week you can find a new edition of #FreeSpeech in the News — a collection of related stories, commentary, and opinions on free speech in the 21st century that’s making the news. You’ll also find takes on current events, past forums, and issues surrounding Northeast Ohio. Read on for all things City Club.

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Monday, January 11, 2021

#FREESPEECH in the News January 11, 2020

Bliss Davis, Content and Programming Coordinator, The City Club of Cleveland

#FREESPEECH in the News January 11, 2020

As the Citadel of Free Speech here in Cleveland, we work to protect and promote the basis of our democracy by sharing related stories, commentary, and opinions on free speech in the 21st century. Here's what's making the news – and what you should know about – in the past week.

1.) 'Free speech' social media platform with local ties sees web traffic surge

A social media platform with a Clarks Summit mailing address that claims to promote free speech experienced a surge in web traffic last week, according to its Moosic-native CEO.

Gab, founded by Andrew Torba in 2016, is also one of 11 telecommunication and social media companies asked to preserve messaging data and subscriber information for users who may have been involved in riots at the Capitol on Wednesday. The group involved in the unrest was overwhelmingly made up of longtime supporters of President Donald Trump, the Associated Press reported Sunday.

Torba, 30, created Gab in response to reports of censorship of right-wing views on Facebook and other social media sites. Gab allows users to post comments, follow other users and be followed. About a month after its inception, the platform had 22,000 users and another 55,000 on a wait list. Reached by phone Sunday, Torba said Gab had “35 million visits this week and we’re getting 500,000 new users every day.”

2.) Supreme Court won’t hear PA abortion clinic free speech case

The Supreme Court is declining to get involved in a case about free speech outside a Pittsburgh abortion clinic. The high court turned away the case Monday. The court’s decision not to hear the case leaves in place a 2019 appeals court decision that upheld a Pittsburgh ordinance creating a 15-foot “buffer zone” where protests are barred around entrances to health care facilities. The decision by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals allowed “sidewalk counseling” within that zone.

The appeals court said the city can restrict congregating, picketing, patrolling and demonstrating in the immediate vicinity of clinics, but the zone restrictions do not apply to “calm and peaceful” one-on-one conversations by anti-abortion activists seeking to speak with women entering a clinic.

Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that he agreed with the court’s decision not to take up this particular case because it “involves unclear, preliminary questions about the proper interpretation of state law.” But he said the court should take up the issue of buffer zones in an appropriate case.

3.) ’First Amendment does not apply’: Law expert says Trump’s social media ban is constitutional

Twitter has defined the voice of the Trump Administration for the past four years, but after Wednesday’s deadly insurgence at the US Capitol, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram have permanently banned the president.

Virginia Senator Amanda Chase is facing similar suspensions from Facebook after the social media giant says she spread false claims about the riots. The move is drawing criticism from Trump, Chase, and others who are calling the decision a violation of free speech. But VCU constitutional law expert, Dr. John Aughenbaugh, says that isn’t the case.

“What Twitter did does not violate the First Amendment of the constitution,” Aughenbaugh said. “The First Amendment applies to the government, and Twitter or Facebook, or any other social media platform, by and large, is a private sector actor and therefore the First Amendment does not apply.”

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