Social media: New power, old crackdown

By Elizabeth Mohr

The birth of the internet and social media came with a seemingly unbreakable contract – a promise that it would enable freedom of speech. Think of movements like #MeToo or Black Lives Matter that have used social media platforms to promote the voices of those often ignored in society.

People engulf themselves in their own carefully tailored bubble of information.

Nowadays anyone can make an account on Facebook, Twitter or anywhere else where they are free to post what they want, within certain restrictions. Posts are shared, reacted to, and commented upon, sparking online conversations and controversial debates. Would these subjects be discussed and these voices heard if not for social media?

Yet in recent times, new fears have sprung up, questioning just how free our speech online really is or will be in the future. Consider Facebook, one of the behemoths created by the internet. Although Facebook allows anyone over the age of thirteen to make an account, not everything they post goes uncensored. A number of cases have created a media furor for example when a controversial anti-migrant video by the Hungarian government was removed from Facebook in March 2018.

We must remain vigilant to the increasing power of social media giants in the field of public debate.

While many would agree with the removal of this video, it raises the question of who decides what stays and what goes on what has arguably become one of the most important public forums. What other content is being removed from Facebook? Is this information important to the public? Is this censorship actually restricting free speech?

People are increasingly informing themselves through social media instead of newspapers. This trend even poses a threat to current journalism. People, with the help of algorithms, tend to engulf themselves in their own carefully tailored bubble of information where those who disagree with their opinions are blocked or reported. Censoring what is shared on these sites only fuels an extremely filtered worldview and endangers people’s free speech.

Who decides what speech stays and what goes?

We live in a time when it is easier than ever before for people to voice their opinions on a variety of issues. Social media has played a major role in this – creating an open outlet where people are encouraged to express themselves and connect with others. But the fears about social media’s effect on free speech are legitimate.

Free speech is undergoing massive, unpredictable changes on social media. We should remain vigilant of the increasing power that social media giants have to shape our public discourses and affect our right to free speech.

Featured Image: via Flickr

Cartoon: Elena Onwochei-Garcia

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