Relationship Between Social Media and Free Speech

Freedom of speech - social media on Internet

The relationship between social media and free speech has become complicated. In the past couple of years, there has been a hot debate about 1st Amendment Rights on the internet. With the primary conflict being on social media. Although the 1st Amendment is upheld on the internet, there is still a huge debate on its place on certain websites. So let’s try to dissect this relationship through the perception of laws and philosophy. 

History of Internet Free Speech

When the internet started to become prominent in American society, complications arose when it came to the application of the 1st Amendment. Court cases like Reno vs. ACLU started the process of defining the position Free Speech has in Internet discourse. The answer was easy. Despite the government's efforts and successes to pass the CDA, the Supreme Court ruled that cyberspace is free. Speech on the internet is protected with the same vigor as spoken and written words. This verdict allowed the internet to thrive as a safe haven for people to speak their minds.

However, a new complication has been added to the equation. Social Media Platforms have become an integral part of communication. But it seems like the Supreme Court’s ruling doesn’t apply to them. After all, recent reports of suspensions and bans for wrong thinking have become notable. But what causes this disconnect?

Social Media Complication

The 1st Amendment is a simple and fundamental right for every citizen. It allows all speech to be protected from government interference. Hate, Obscene, Misinformation, and some Harassment Speech is protected under the 1st Amendment. The complication comes from what Social Media Platforms are. Social media platforms are privately held companies, meaning they have no relation to the government. Because of this, they have the freedom to suspend or ban anyone they want for violating their policies. In principle, it seems fair. But in recent years, this has been developing into an issue. Especially since the Supreme Court made a unanimous agreement that social media platforms have become the most important source of information exchange, ideas, and communication. This doesn’t just apply to families but to government officials.

Issues with Social Media Policies

Considering how big social media has become in regular discourse, the policies on these Social Media have caused a huge conflict over the last couple of years. You can even see the shift on Wikipedia that has documented the most notable suspensions on Twitter. And these are just notable ones. What about the average everyday person who is suspended? An interesting way to see the comparable difference between the 1st Amendment and social media policies is through the Freedom Forum Institute's Free Expression on Social Media. On this site, you can see how popular social media sites are compared to the 1st Amendment. Now to be clear, this isn’t justifying people hateful or harassing others. Rather, it is the fact that these policies violate the 1st Amendment. Funny enough, the only site that basically adheres to the 1st Amendment is Reddit. A sight usually scorned by the general public. It truly is a dive into anything. However, the other sites lack that freedom.

Should Free Speech Be Allowed on Social Media?

As the Internet and policies have evolved, the topic has become complicated. When social media platforms had little power, it was reasonable to allow them to restrict certain speech. However, the evolution of social media influence on public discourse has created a whole new set of questions. The reality is that an individual's freedom of speech needs to be respected. And as participatory democracy, be able to voice those opinions without restriction. So the big question is how to preserve people’s access to express those opinions on the Internet when private social media companies hold that power. That is why Government officials, concerned citizens, and civil activists are struggling to find a solution to this issue. Because people should be allowed access to these sites, even if their opinion is controversial or unpopular.

However, with the White House’s recent announcement of “suggestions” to Facebook, we are seeing the potential 1st Amendment violations coming. After all, it is one thing for a private company to suspend people of their own volition and being “suggested” by the Government.

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