Freedom of speech has been a right that the American people have been entitled to since 1791 when the Bill of Rights was ratified, but the applicability of this right to social media platforms is highly contested. As social media companies are private entities, many Americans believe that it is lawful, or even beneficial, to have censorship on social media in order to combat the spread of false information. On the other hand, many people feel as though censorship on social media platforms is infringing on their right to freedom of speech because of the platforms’ influence on the distribution of ideas. This article will explore both sides of this debate.
With social media expanding and taking on such an important role in society and distribution of information, social media companies should absolutely be able to censor speech and media distributed on their platforms. In today’s world, information can spread at the speed of light, with social media spreading the most information the fastest. However, much of this information can be factually incorrect, and is known to most as “fake news.” Fake news typically refers to false news stories, often spread throughout social media as propaganda. These platforms should have the same responsibility as traditional media companies. Social media has become an information hub and people rely on it for information, oftentimes as their only source of news. In the US, there are regulations on public broadcasters. For example, the Federal Communications Commission forbids the broadcast of “indecent” material on the public airwaves. If social media sites are treated like news sources by the public, they should be held to high standards just like traditional news sites.
An argument for why there should not be any censorship is because we need to protect our “first amendment rights,” but what many people seem to forget is that there is a tradeoff between security and free speech. The people reporting on the events can make mistakes, and the people receiving the information can believe this fake news. Also, hate speech (which is defined as abusive or threatening speech that displays prejudice against a particular group) can easily spread when there is no regulation. Because of this, offensive and hurtful ideologies can be spread quickly and be interpreted as truth, and not simply a hateful opinion. Beyond that, there are also issues about surrounding people who are transmitting the news, as the people who are broadcasting information on social media may not be educated in the ethics of journalism, and their biases can obscure some of the information that is shared in the post. This essentially means the information that they are sharing will not be balanced. Also, it could prove difficult to properly vet and verify stories that are being reported if there are no restrictions on social media.
Social media can spread information at lightning speeds, so it is important now more so than ever to have restrictions put in place on these companies. Although some people think that their rights to free speech will be infringed if there is censorship in place, the potential damage from fake news will end up being even more dangerous to society today.
With social media expanding and taking on such an important role in society and the distribution of information, social media companies should not be allowed to censor speech/media from their platforms. Citizens should be able to access as much information as possible in order to stay informed and form their own opinions. An argument for allowing these companies to censor whatever they choose is that the companies are protecting against “harmful content.” This begs the question, what constitutes harmful content? If a private company has the right to block users’ posts from their platforms for violating their terms and conditions (which often include something along the lines of “we reserve the right to block what we see fit”), they will then be allowed to block things that the board or CEO doesn’t agree with under the guise of removing so called “harmful content.”
Furthermore, in this era, we don’t even trust our elected government to decide what is harmful and what we should or should not be able to see. We would deem this as impeding on our rights. Therefore, it makes even less sense to allow private corporations, which are often motivated by factors which may have little to do with the general interests of the population, to impede freedom of speech. Even today, media censorship has been a threat to political freedom. For example, in China, the state controls the press which is used to the leader’s political advantage. As social media is the primary news source for many people, it can have as large of an influence on people and their perceptions as print media can, so censorship on social media can used as a political advantage.
One of the main reasons why companies reportedly block content is because they do not want individuals to be exposed to disturbing content. However, even disturbing images and other types of information should be accessible to citizens. People should be able to access this information as it could prove vital in saving lives. For example, the news reported by individual people and shared on social media can be spread faster than printed or even televised news. So, in extreme cases, one might be able to protect themselves and others by seeing what is happening live and acting on it.
There is very little transparency in what the companies can block or not. So it makes it easy for a politically or an ideologically motivated CEO or board to actively influence public perception under the guise of removing “harmful content.” Even though fake news is a major issue in today’s world, media censorship matters even more. External influences with possible ulterior motives should not be able to influence what news reaches the American public.