PUB 101 D100
20 October 2020
Democracy in Social Media: Freedom or Censorship?
Social media platforms are utilized every single day by people around the world of all ages, genders, and ethnicities. Over the past several years, these platforms, such as Facebook, Twittter, Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat, and Tik Tok have become so easily accessible – anybody has the power to post nearly anything they desire on the internet. Many of these posts are personal – some are even kept entirely private, but many of these posts are public and discuss critical issues around the world. Those in positions of power, including U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy states that “cyberspace, and social media in particular, was among the “most important places … for the exchange of views” (Hudson Jr., “Free speech or censorship? Social media litigation is a hot legal battleground”). These are the places in which many of us, especially the younger generations, get our information, including our news, but with everybody posting whatever they choose, who’s to say that all of the stories we hear are truly legitimate and reliable? Who’s to say that our stories aren’t censored by each and every company that host a platform or who’s to say that our stories aren’t censored by the government? As stated in ABA Journal, “Much of the censorship on social media does not emanate directly from the government. Often, the censorship comes from social media companies that police content pursuant to their own terms-of-service agreements” (Hudson Jr., “Free speech or censorship? Social media litigation is a hot legal battleground”). So, are social media platforms truly democratic? Do people truly have free speech on the internet? Social media platforms absolutely allow for freedom of speech and users are free to explore, access information, and express themselves in the manner of their choosing without constraint.
Many social media platforms have adopted the concept of news feeds, a feature that allows users to view recent and popular content on the website as well as highlighting their top stories. A study concerning youth and their usage of social media found that “all of [the interviewees] even those who do not actively follow news organisations seem to expect that when something “big” or important is happening domestically or internationally, it will show up in their social media feeds. Many of the interviewees expressed that, in a sense, they do not have to search for news. Rather, if sufficiently important or interesting, the news will find them” (Bergström and Belfrage 590). Content is clearly filtered to display what has been pre-selected. As the years have gone by, social media platforms have further incorporated algorithms to improve the user experience, but also pre-select what is viewed by the user. These algorithms are designed to display content that is customized to the interests of each particular user, but how often have you refreshed your news feed only to realize that the content you see is strangely limited and repetitive? The algorithm selects and censors what we see and how much we see, and yet, it does not block information. Users are free to search for content, follow or unfollow certain content, and explore these websites without any constraints.
Users on social media platforms are also free to express their thoughts and opinions, however they like and whenever they like. Writing a blog post and submitting it online for the public questioning whether or not social media platforms are democratic, for instance, is permitted. Foul language is most often not censored, but many platforms provide users with the option to censor it, if they wish. Online posts may be posted privately, archived, or deleted. Comments may be hidden, deleted, or disabled, but this also means that hate speech is permitted as well, which “raises the question of whether such private entities will do more to respect freedom of expression and regulate the type of speech that perhaps does need to be removed” (Hudson Jr., “Free speech or censorship? Social media litigation is a hot legal battleground”). Although there is debate about whether there should be censorship on social media platforms to protect its users from hate and discrimination, it is a discussion among leaders who are using democratic means to achieve the best results for the people.
Organizations have also been put in place in order to protect freedom of expression on the Internet. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), for instance, does not believe in censorship and is devoted to the fight for digital media to receive the same freedoms as traditional media (“Internet Speech”). One case was brought to the Supreme Court in which “the Supreme Court held that the government can no more restrict a person’s access to words or images on the Internet than it can snatch a book out of someone’s hands or cover up a nude statue in a museum” (“Internet Speech”). Social media users were granted non-restrictive communication online and are able to make own decisions about what they choose to do and express with their online platforms.
The Internet and all of its social media platforms has allowed people across the globe to communicate with one another. It has given people the ability to express their thoughts and opinions openly, and even anonymously, without any major constraints. Though this may also lead to issues, such as hate speech, “the Internet is one of the most wonderful things that has happened to communication, and it can actually enhance, not only freedom of expression, but it can also enhance citizen participation and the dynamic participation of people to strengthen democratic governments…It can also enhance the exercise of other rights (Molnar 23).” Social media platforms may be fairly recent and continuously changing. They may contain content that is false or illegitimate. They even select the content that they wish for users to see, but they are, ultimately, democratic and allow for users freely search for information as well as to create their own identities and express themselves through cyberspace as they wish.
Bergström, Annika, and Maria Jervelycke Belfrage. “News in Social Media.” Digital Journalism, vol. 6, no. 5, 2018, pp. 583-598.
Hudson Jr., David L. “Free speech or censorship? Social media litigation is a hot legal battleground.” ABA Journal, 01 April 2019, https://www.abajournal.com/magazine/article/social-clashes-digital-free-speech. Accessed 18 Oct. 2020.
“Internet Speech.” American Civil Liberties Union. https://www.aclu.org/issues/free-speech/internet-speech. Accessed 18 Oct. 2020.
Molnar, Peter. Free Speech and Censorship around the Globe. NED – New edition, 1 ed., Central European University Press, 2015.