How far does freedom of speech and censorship extend on social media platforms? - Activate World

How far does freedom of speech and censorship extend on social media platforms?

Storyline:

Alex Jones is a conspiracy theorist with multiple podcasts and a widespread social media presence. Some of his conspiracy theories entail Sandy Hook, the Oklahoma City bombing, and the September 11 attacks. Recently, several social media platforms have removed him from freedom of speech censorshiptheir platforms. The current bans include:

  • Facebook removed four Jones-related pages for spreading fake news and glorifying violence.
  • YouTube took down Jones content for violating their Terms of Service and Community Guidelines.
  • Apple iTunes dropped five Alex Jones podcasts for violating their hate policy.
  • Others who have dropped Alex Jones content include Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Spotify.
  • Instagram and Twitter do not plan to drop Alex Jones.

Noteworthy:

  • Some believe these actions will strengthen Alex Jones and his conspiracy theories. Others feel that social media companies are entering a troubling area by deciding who thoughts are acceptable and unacceptable. The point: Censorship does not work.
  • Others believe that this is not a freedom of speech issue. Private companies set guidelines for users to follow, and they can enforce those guidelines.
  • In a court filing, four free-speech law professors urged not to let Alex Jones hide behind the first amendment, stating: “False speech does not serve the public interest the way that true speech does. And indeed, there is no constitutional value in false statements of fact.”
  • The ACLU has an extensive definition of censorship. Two parts are relevant to highlight.
    • “Censorship, the suppression of words, images, or ideas that are ‘offensive,’ happens whenever some people succeed in imposing their personal political or moral values on others. Censorship can be carried out by the government as well as private pressure groups.”
    • “The second principle is that expression may be restricted only if it will clearly cause direct and imminent harm to an important societal interest. The classic example is falsely shouting fire in a crowded theater and causing a stampede. Even then, the speech may be silenced or punished only if there is no other way to avert the harm.”

Quests and Actions (Q&A):

  • What responsibility do social media companies have in policing content published on their platforms?
  • By removing fake news and conspiracy theorists from social media platforms, does this help or hinder free speech and expression of ideas?
  • What role do you play as a reader? Do you call out harmful speech when discovered? Do you ignore the content or inform others to stay away?
Sources: Daily Mail, LA Times, CNET, USA Today, Polygon, New York Times
Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash