A group of protesters gathered on the Statehouse grounds Sunday afternoon to protest against recent censorship of conservative personalities on social media.
The protesters initially met in Florence, South Carolina, at the Florence Center. Shawn Laurie, a TikToker and veteran from Florence, organized the protest, which was called "Drive4America." The group then drove to the Statehouse.
The main speakers for the protest were all TikTokers and planned the protest through the platform. The speakers came from numerous states to South Carolina.
During the rally, South Carolina Highway Patrol and the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) were among the law enforcement present on the Statehouse grounds. Police presence gradually grew from when the protest initially began.
One of the protesters, a man named Jeff who didn't want to give his last name, said the group originally planned this protest in September. He said the rally had nothing to do with the Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol or the presidential election.
Jeff said the rally was supposed to be for veterans initially, but it then morphed into a protest about censorship. Laurie said he was banned from Facebook for making a video about how he was against people "stomping and degrading" the American flag.
“It’s really about freedom of speech, is what it is," Laurie said. "It’s a freedom of speech rally. We’re just trying to raise awareness to let people know that we are tired of being silenced. We are tired of being kicked off social media."
Researchers have found no evidence of widespread censorship of conservative voices. The algorithms social media companies use do not have any inherent political leaning, but instead find content that "elicits strong reactions," which ends up being right-leaning content, according to a report by USA Today.
Tim Meizner, another TikToker from San Antonio, Texas, said he had been censored on Facebook, TikTok and Twitter.
"People are getting censored. It ain't about the left it ain't about the right," Meizner said. "I've been censored myself on Facebook, TikTok, Twitter, and that overt belief that I have the right to voice my own opinion and so do they at the same time. As a conservative, we constantly get censored, you know, get banned, get my post removed and all that, and we believe that's wrong."
During the rally, a group of counter-protesters came onto the Statehouse grounds to protest against the group. Sean Zitzer, one of the speakers from Georgia, said his group went to talk to the counter-protesters and were peaceful with one another.
"In every group, there's always that one or two, but they all were open to talk," Zitzer said. "They were respectful. They agreed with things. We found a lot of common ground, actually, in that conversation that we had. We may not, like I said, we may not all vote the same, but we had a lot of common ground."
In his speech, Zitzer stated while he understood the rioters at the Capitol felt frustrated with the election, it's not an excuse to storm the Capitol building.
"We don't start nothing," Zitzer said. "Alright, we don't sit here and talk about the left rioting and protesting and putting their hands on law enforcement and then get in fistfights with police officers. We don't go into the Capitol and destroy stuff. I mean, the trashcan in there is a historical monument, alright? We don't do that."
Shannen Kocher, a TikToker and one of the speakers at the event, said Big Tech, the government and the media want people to come together, but only on one side of the political spectrum, instead of having a variety of beliefs.
"They said we should unite, and they were right. We need to unite as 'we the people.' We need to unite as Americans, not as left, not as right. We need to remember that we are bigger than they are. They don't work without us. We need to come together as a nation and think about not just ourselves but for the future generations."