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Does Freedom of Speech Exist on Social Media

When the first Amendment was put into place freedom of speech was born, we were all given the right to express any opinion without censorship or restraint. Being able to let

 words roll off of your tongue without having to second guess your thoughts could possibly be one of the greatest perks of living in America. Although we are free to say what we want, we are not allowed to express any opinion that offends, threatens, or insults groups, based on race, color, religion, national orientation, or disability (hate speech). Does freedom of speech apply online if we are given limitations? Is there a way to compromise? Has the line of protecting users with censorship and still allowing individuals to express themselves freely become smudged?

Social media has become a one stop shop for many; keeping up with current events, celebrity gossip, a journal, a tool to grow business and most importantly a sanctuary where the first amendment could be utilized as a shield protecting them from the consequences of their words. Sites such as Facebook and Twitter have made a more conscious effort to regulate the content posted on their platform. According to an CBS News article, this summer Facebook released a list of guidelines that go into how something qualifies as a Trending Topic causing a few eyebrows to be raised due to the notion that their tactics are biased toward controversial stories and posts. Later Facebook also received backlash for banning a Vietnam war image due their regulations on pornography, later having to backtrack their decision stating: “Because of its status as an iconic image of historical importance, the value of permitting sharing outweighs the value of protecting the community by removal, so we have decided to reinstate the image on Facebook where we are aware it has been removed” (The Verge). Facebook has the potential to become one of the world’s biggest source for news and their strong stance of censorship could affect what users have access to. Last month Facebook wanted to ban Donald Trump from their network due to violation but Marc Zuckerberg stepped in with the fear that these actions would be distributive during the election although it was clear that some of his content could be considered hate speech. Does being an electoral candidate hold you to different standards on social media? Is it up to social media applications to control what ideas are censored? How do administrators create polices that do not impose on others rights while still maintaining an overall positive user experience?

Of course it is important for platforms to monitor for child pornography, harassment, online bullying, and overall hate speech but how do they create a perfect balance. It is important for users to be able to utilize social media as a safe haven and not feel as if they will be demonized for expressing their views as long as it does not make another feel threatened. Easier said than done? In order for this to be done properly social media sites must find a reasonable compromise, giving users a platform to safely express their views without fear of punishment.

Twitter might have found the recipe. In October users came across a “muted words” feature on Twitter (The Next Web) This option allowed users to create a list of unwanted words and phrases that they did not want to see on their timeline still leaving them available for others to see. Sources expressed that this feature was released prematurely and would be released in the future with an update. After doing my research it has not be fully explained how this will work but it seems that this addition to Twitter could be what all social media needs to keep the peace.


Gabrielle Byrd

Emerging Media Graduate Student

Loyola University