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I'll say right away, I know this hot topic is politically divisive, but I'm hoping for a neutral explanation by people with experience.

Social media companies (in addition to banks, payment processors, website hosting services, and more) are increasingly picking and choosing which clients they will serve. This picking and choosing is, I don't think can be denied at this point, based at least somewhat on the political opinions of these clients.

In response to this, a common defense is "They're private companies, so they can pick and choose who they want to serve." But this argument holds no water for most other businesses; for example if I run a coffee shop, I can't pick and choose who to serve based on what political paraphernalia they're wearing (or at least, I'm pretty sure I can't). In general, the government forces American businesses to run any number of ways based on the laws they pass. We don't live in a libertarian / anarcho-capitalist environment, so this "They're private companies" argument has always struck me as disingenuous.

I know it's a general question, but to what extent can companies pick and choose (that is, discriminate) what clients to serve? What legal rights or contracts allow these companies to discriminate in ways that other companies can't? If discrimination based on political opinions is NOT legal, how have these companies legally obfuscated their intentions?

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  • Other than the First Amendment? – jeffronicus Mar 16 at 21:21
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    I think it would help to give some examples of social media companies picking and choosing clients so we can be on the same page. – staad Mar 16 at 21:28
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    In the UK a private business has the right to refuse to serve anyone they like unless that refusal is based wholly or in part on a protected characteristic which would be unlawful discrimination. – Rock Ape Mar 16 at 21:38
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    @staad There are many examples of influential individuals posting content about right-of-center politics suspended from social media. One example: Twitter does not allow posting of any kind about "QAnon" (cbsnews.com/news/…). I hope that clarifies what I mean. – Hikonyan Mar 16 at 21:39
  • OP, George White’s answer is on point and as for the distinction between political positions and, for example, race, the law is set to protect people from discrimination based on their immutable characteristics. That’s why the restaurant can choose not to serve someone without a shirt or who is spewing BS (aka anything related to Q), but can’t make the same decision because someone is white or a woman. – A.fm. Mar 17 at 15:16
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One law is

42 U.S.C. §2000a (a)All persons shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any place of public accommodation, as defined in this section, without discrimination on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin.

Nothing about political opinion. Also, note that a web site is not a "public accommodation" so the rules can be different.

Feel free to start a both a coffee shop and a web site that do not serve socialists.

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    I think this and the comment by Rock Ape clear it up - political discrimination is a-OK in America. The conclusions from that are another discussion altogether, but I mistakenly thought it was as illegal as discriminating by race. Thanks! – Hikonyan Mar 16 at 21:59
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    @Hikonyan - you might look up quotes from conservative/ libertarian Rand Paul on his issues with the Civil Rights Act. He thought is was good to legislate against racial discrimination in public places but said that possibly a private business should get to make its own rules. – George White Mar 16 at 22:48
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    This is correct as far as federal law goes, but note also that California, D.C., and several other jurisdictions do outlaw political discrimination to some extent. – bdb484 Mar 16 at 22:55
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    At least in CA this is a feature of employment law. In CA, @Hikonyan's socialist-free coffee shop policy could apply to customers but not employees. – George White Mar 16 at 23:31
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    "illegal in some way"? I agree that it seems wrong but you'd need to cite some law for this to make sense. – George White Mar 17 at 0:10
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I'm not sure the premise of this question is accurate. My understanding is that anti-discrimination laws say things like: 'you can't choose to serve only white customers at your restaurant.' I bet if Twitter tried to become 'whites only,' that would also be illegal (and rightly so).

Twitter and Facebook have certain rules about what you can and can't use their platforms to do. These are essentially rules of decorum. I think they're no different from a restaurant having a 'no shirt, no shoes, no service' rule, which, as long as it's applied equally to all would-be patrons, is perfectly legal.

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  • These laws have lists of protected classed - like the federal one I quoted. I may be wrong but I would be very surprised if you find one that says "political party" or equivalent. – George White Mar 17 at 2:07
  • @GeorgeWhite so ultimately we reach the same result – user36183 Mar 17 at 2:44
  • @Colin Losey If these companies are using decorum as a basis, then they are certainly not applying it equally. (For example, "verified" blue checkmark users on Twitter are able to post threats of violence, racism, etc on the platform, while many other users would be banned for it. A former president of the United States for example, was suspended on that supposed basis, if I'm not mistaken.) But as other answers have explained, it seems they have a legal right to enforce it unequally since "decorum" is not a legal protected class. – Hikonyan Mar 17 at 18:33
  • @Hikonyan Which verified twitter user posted a threat of violence on twitter and didn't get their account banned or suspended? – user36183 Mar 17 at 21:46

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