Social media’s fight in the battle between hate speech and free speech

The concept of censorship is not a new one- governments, large companies, religious organizations, and public schools have monitored and censored the thoughts, words, and actions of their participants for as long as modern society has existed. With the development of the Internet- and shortly after, social media, we as a society have made tremendous leaps and bounds in the way of sharing information and ideas. The distribution of information or opinions became as easy as a few clicks on a keyboard or taps on a screen. Media companies like Facebook or Twitter quickly became powerful forces in public opinion because of the amount of curated ads, articles, and posts that can be shared or bought their way onto one’s feed.

We like to consider these social media companies as neutral platforms that allow for freedom of speech, but that’s not always the case. The thin line between censorship and moderating content becomes a gray area when the company is responsible for filtering out sensitive or illicit posts that do not meet their community guidelines. Some censorship makes sense- the removal of content like terrorist propaganda, illegal adult content, or hate speech feels like a no-brainer to most. But, some content slips between the cracks and other’s whose do not violate certain terms and agreements of these sites are allowed to be distributed on a mass scale.

Social media users stand divided on the topic, with some arguing that censoring hate speech on social media is an infringement on free speech. After the suspension of Alex Jones’ social media accounts many people claimed it was censorship. Even Donald Trump went on a Twitter spree calling out social media for “discriminating against Republican/ Conservative voices”. Alex Jones, a far-right conspiracy theorist, was suspended for glorifying violence and using dehumanizing language, both of which violate the terms of Twitter and Facebook.

Social media continues to become an integral part of our culture- swaying elections, building brands and companies, and being a primary news outlet for many citizens globally. At what point will tech giants like Facebook or Twitter have the same social responsibility to protect and censor the public that we delegate to our government? Is such a matter even possible without the violation of U.S. citizens’ most basic rights? Independent, non profit media organization, Fair Observer, offers an interesting perspective on where social media firms go from here. (See link)

I look forward to learning more about the different forms of censorship and the consequences it brings in the rest of this course. On a most personal note I look forward to better understanding the ethics, legality, and possibilities that come with social media censorship in our future social climate.

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