Social Media and the Freedom of Speech (Essay #1)

            The freedom of speech is a right that often gets taken for granted in the age of social media. It’s often misunderstood and misused as a form of protection. Prior to the existence of social media, opinions and critiques were often exchanged face to face. Those who wished to exercise their freedom of speech were required to take ownership of their opinions. The first amendment specifies that freedom of speech should not be confused with freedom to hate speech. According to HG.org Legal Resources, the first amendment does not protect individuals in cases where slander, crimes involving speech, as well as threats and involved (What Type of Speech is Not Protected by the First Amendment). In our current society, there are two groups of individuals that seem to be immune to the regulations surrounding an individual’s rights to the freedom and speech: influential public figures and anonymous users. With the introduction of social media and the ability to appear “invisible”, individuals are no longer held accountable for their words. This could be viewed both positively and negatively; although it allows the timid to speak their mind and encourage discussions, the lack of accountability also has negative consequences (e.g. cyberbullying and hate speech). Freedom of speech is a dangerous right that can be misused and taken advantage of by outliers. At the end of the day, is it more important to protect individuals from slander and harm to maintain peace on social media? Or should we focus on maintaining the freedom of speech and our right to anonymity. In this paper, we will discuss the misuse of “freedom of speech” by public figures as well as bias from social media platforms.

            Currently, the first amendment of the United States does not specify whether social media giants such as Facebook and Twitter should be allowed to selectively censor individuals. It’s important to ask who makes the final call on which individual or opinions should be silenced. Twitter is a particularly controversial platform when it comes to political censorship. The platform has decided to “choose sides” on multiple occasions, censoring certain individuals yet turning a blind eye on influential figures. Although twitter claims that “the twitter rule applies to everyone”, CEO Jack Dorsey appears to be playing favoritism with the president of the United States, Donald Trump. Kamala Harris, a lawyer and politician based in the United States of America, has written a formal letter to Dorsey in hopes that the Twitter CEO will consider suspending Trump’s private twitter. In Harris’s letter, she writes that the president has violated multiple rules of Twitter. In particular, she states that Trump’s tweets that threaten civil war constitutes “blatant threats that put people at risk and our democracy in danger. No user, regardless of their job, wealth, or stature should be exempt from abiding by Twitter’s user agreement, not even the president of the United States” (Mahdawi, 2019). Despite the validity of the evidence that Harris has provided regarding Trump’s violation of twitter rules, the platform has once again decided to turn a blind eye by stating that, “Blocking a world leader from Twitter or removing their controversial Tweets would hide important information people should be able to see and debate” (Twitter Inc., 2018). Twitter currently, “allows politicians to break its terms of service, arguing that it’s “in the public interest” for users to see those tweets” (Nunez, 2019). This provokes the question of whether public or influential figures should be given “special privileges” regarding exercising their freedom of speech. Twitter argues that the platform should not be held accountable for the protection of free of speech in any case. In Trump’s scenario, the platform argues that, “banning a world leader wouldn’t silence them. If Trump was forced off Twitter he could just go on Fox News every day. He could hold more press conferences” (Mahdawi, 2019).

            There are various opinions associated with Harris’s letter versus Twitter’s response. We could argue that silencing trump could be the beginning of excessive censorship, because we should not silence opposing opinions to appease a group of individuals. Suspending his Twitter account will not change his opinions and pending political courses of action. We are effectively putting on blindfolds and choosing to only see opinions what agrees with our own ideology. However, one could also argue that Twitter has failed to keep its promise on applying the same set of twitter rules to every user. Refusing to suspend Trump further emphasizes the biased operation of the platform, and it suggests that individuals with smaller followings do not hold the same privileges as public figures with large followings. In conclusion, social media platforms are designed to favor the opinions of those who are influential.

References:

Mahdawi, A. (2019, October 4). Should Trump be Banned from Twitter. The Guardian. Retrieved from

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/oct/04/should-trump-be-banned-from-twitter

Twitter Inc. (2018, January 5). World Leaders on Twitter. Retrieved from

https://blog.twitter.com/en_us/topics/company/2018/world-leaders-and-twitter.html

Nunez, M. (2019, October 2). Kamala Harris Tells Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey To Suspend President Donald Trump’s Account In New Letter. Forbes. Retrieved from

https://www.forbes.com/sites/mnunez/2019/10/02/kamala-harris-tells-twitter-ceo-jack-dorsey-to-suspend-president-donald-trumps-account-in-new-letter/#4fbc0b816648

HG.org Legal Resources. (n.d.). What Type of Speech is Not Protected by the First Amendment. Retrieved from

https://www.hg.org/legal-articles/what-type-of-speech-is-not-protected-by-the-first-amendment-34258

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