Social Media Wars: The Death Of Free Speech?

Social Media Wars: The Death Of Free Speech?

Free speech is painful. It’s such an important right, yet it can bring serious consequences.

Being able to say whatever you want is incredibly important. But it also means you might say things that other people don’t like. Worse still, other people might say things you don’t like. Or even hate.

Free speech also gives idiots a platform to spew shocking and stupid ideas, beliefs, and stances. I’m sure some of you are thinking that about me right now (thanks!). Free speech gives everyone carte blanche to prove just how much of a numbskull they are.

As Mark Twain once said, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt.”

But thankfully we live in an age where few keep their mouths shut. That’s a good thing. That’s a wonderful thing. Being free to express your ideas, even idiotic ones, is a value add to me. Why? Because without the freedom to fail, we don’t have the freedom to succeed.

A society that welcomes free speech does so, knowing that some of that speech might be vile, toxic, or inappropriate. Why do we allow it? Because we know the best way to combat evil is with good. We can confront, argue, and rebuke vile speech with good speech. By offering intelligent, meaningful, and valuable ideas as alternatives to nonsense.

The moment we begin to clamp down on “wrong speech” through the use of legislation or over-reaching rules, we lose the right to call our societies free.

Yet that is the war that is going on right now in much of the world, even in the United States.

Social media was once considered the new frontier of freedom and opportunity for citizens around the world. Once upon a time, even citizens in the Middle East were using it to express new ideas and calling for change in their societies. The Arab Spring was kickstarted thanks to the use of new mediums that could not be controlled by dictators or authoritarian regimes. The people of the Middle East enjoyed this freedom to spread the word.

That’s not the case anymore. Social networks are now the worst places to express free ideas. Somewhere along the way, those that held the gates to these networks realized the immense power they had over society. As long as they had no problem violating the trust their users gave them, they could control what you see and what you say.

From Google to Facebook to Twitter, we’ve seen social networks crack down on “unacceptable speech.” There always seems to be a one-sided nature to their actions.

Facebook is often in the hot seat for selective censoring of content. They are quick to take down posts, images, and pages that are seemingly inoffensive—but apparently upset global overlords. It’s especially upsetting when it turns out these posts are anti-ISIS, you know, the people that want to kill all of us.

A Westerner fighting in Syria with the Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG/YPJ) has accused Facebook of repeatedly censoring her posts updating the world on her fight against the Islamic State…

She accuses Facebook of removing one of her posts with little explanation. The post contained no graphic imagery — just a photo of a fellow militiaman’s funeral with no accompanying commentary. Böhman says she also received a 30-day posting block for publishing the image…

She, and other supporters of the Syrian Kurdish militia, allege that the social media company engages in draconian censorship against them in order to appease Turkey, a country that is bitterly opposed to the Syrian & Turkish Kurdish independence movement. (Breitbart)

Now, why would Facebook wish to censor their posts and images? Why would an “open” and “free” platform feel the need to control what other’s saw from people fighting ISIS?

Could it be that Zuckerberg is really afraid of upsetting Turkey? If they don’t censor the content of Syrian users, would the entire nation of Turkey ban and block Facebook?

Perhaps. It’s not as if Erdoğan has a great track record when it comes to free speech and human rights. It could very well be the case of a large entity like Facebook having no choice but to violate their integrity and convictions, to stay open in a foreign nation.

But that doesn’t affect American users, right? Except, that it does. Social networks are international entities. Something that happens to one section of the site will affect everyone else. If you’re blocked, you’re blocked. You could be an American, posting an article you care about to your friends. Someone in the U.K. finds it offensive and reports it. You can find yourself with a 30-day slap on the wrist or worse, because according to Facebook, you’re guilty of wrongthink.

This is a growing problem with social media. Entities that thrived because they welcomed free speech are now becoming hampered by outside forces that hate it.

I truly doubt that Zuckerberg wants to monitor the comments of some 1 billion users. Even if he were a died-in-the-wool liberal, it would be against his best interests to censor people he disagrees with. It’s in a social network’s best interests to welcome all forms a speech; because that means more users!

But thanks to corporate investors, virulent political parties, and hostile government regimes, social networks find themselves in an awkward position. Either they begin censoring their users, or face penalties.

Even a free speech platform like Gab has faced pressure, having to refine their user agreement in order to protect themselves. Because in today’s day and age, free and open speech is a naïve ideal.

Where are the limits? When is free speech actually a crime? Are death threats and slurs protected? Should we regulate the unchecked flood of comments, rants, tweet storms, and hate posts—in the interest of public safety?