Finding a Balance Between a Safe Online Environment and Inhibiting Free Speech

There is a lot of controversy over the topic of speech regulation on social media. Everyone has their own opinion on whether social media sites are doing enough to keep offensive speech off of their sites. According to an article titled ‘Regulating Free Speech on Social Media is Dangerous and Futile’ written on Brookings, “79% of Americans believe that social media companies should be regulated.” I believe that there is a balance between having a safe online environment and inhibiting free speech at the same time. I agree with what companies like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram are already doing to regulate speech on their sites. All of these platforms have regulations over hate speech, obscenity, and harassment that relate back to the First Amendment. This chart from Freedom Forum Institute shows the order of platforms that have less to more censorship on their platforms for each category of hate speech, obscenity, and harassment.

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Although there is a lot of speech that should be censored and regulated on social media platforms, an article written on Forbes points out the concern about too much regulation. The article states,

“While there may be reasonable concern about abuse of social media, there’s also reasonable concern that too much regulation could prevent important conversations about topics such abortion, online education and reforms in traditional schools, foreign policy, healthcare, immigration, gun control and emerging firearms technology.”

There are a lot of controversial topics such as those listed in the article, but I agree that over regulating speech on social media could take away immensely from these important conversations. A video posted on Youtube on August 20th, 2018 by Fox Business supports the idea that there should be absolute free speech on social media. NewPicks CEO Ian Myer is being interviewed and he makes numerous points supporting free speech and against government regulation.

Fox Business – Absolute Free Speech Needed on Social Media?

Those against strong government regulation often state that regulation won’t prevent any harm. Instead, they believe it will simply stifle the exchange of ideas. There’s also the argument that enforcement will only benefit those in power, whether that power is held by government or corporations. According to an article titled ‘Governments Are Stepping in to Regulate Social Media, but There May Be Another Way‘ posted on February 2nd, 2018 on Digital Trends,

“Government regulation would interfere with the free expression that is one of the benefits of social media… If the platforms do this work themselves, they can do it more precisely and do it without government overreach.”

Social media platforms have already made so much progress in preventing and removing content that goes against their policies, so moderation is possible and preferable to government interference. Social networks have also increasingly enhanced their own governance by refining algorithms and using more warnings and notifications for suspicious content. Most networks also have some kind of terms and policies regarding content posted on the site. Below is a screenshot from Facebook’s website under their Community Standards.

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Facebook Community Standards

I believe that every social network should have regulations against hate speech. There is nothing good that can come from it and should be removed as soon as possible. Hate speech will quickly turn any platform into a very hostile environment and ultimately ruin the social network. Social networks are made to keep you connected to your friends and family by sharing content no matter where you are in the world. They are not made to be hateful and aggressive towards other users in any way which is why any form of hate speech should be removed. Instagram has a very similar approach to hate speech in their Community Guidelines as well.

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Instagram Community Guidelines

I like how Instagram points out that when hate speech is being shared to challenge it or to raise awareness it may be allowed if it is expressed clearly. It is important to raise awareness of things that are offensive or hateful to others so I agree with Instagram’s decision to allow the discussion of it. However, Instagram does not state whether or not they delete content that involves any kind of hate speech. Social networks should use artificial intelligence and other similar measures to ensure that offensive content gets taken down within 24 hours of being posted.

Media censorship on social networks is different all around the world. As Forbes states, “When it comes to legal systems, each nation defines what it wants to permit as acceptable speech by its citizens.” According to an article titled ‘Media Censorship in China‘ from Council on Foreign Relations, “Experts say Chinese media outlets usually employ their own monitors to ensure political acceptability of their content. Censorship guidelines are circulated weekly from the Communist Party’s propaganda department and the government’s Bureau of Internet Affairs to prominent editors and media providers.” I think China’s policy is smart but also very strict.

Some countries can even go as far as not allowing Facebook access to the country. “The Vietnamese government blocked its citizens from accessing Facebook this week during President Barack Obama’s visit to the country. The reason? The country wanted to quiet human rights activists, according to Reuters.” I do not think it is fair for the Vietnamese government to block their citizens rights to Facebook because of Barack Obama’s visit. I would feel like my rights were being taken away from me if I was not able to discuss things I was passionate about on Facebook. I do not think the United States would ever go as far as blocking its citizens from accessing Facebook.

Overall, I believe that there is a balance between a safe online environment and inhibiting free speech. Social networks should continue to enforce a positive environment and delete any content that is offensive or contains hate speech. The government should have some control over what is posted online, but they should not take away your rights to free speech unless it’s hateful or offensive. Also, social networks should increasingly use artificial intelligence to quickly detect any content that goes against their community guidelines to get deleted. People should have freedom of speech on their social media accounts and be able to post anything they want as long as it’s not hateful or offensive.



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