With the political chaos and controversy surrounding the 2020 Presidential election and COVID-19, social media has been a convenient source for people to informally get their message out into the world. It seems the country is more divided than ever, and people are taking to social media to share their thoughts, but recently the question of social media restrictions has been on the rise.
Some online danger stems from avid supporters of political figures making threats and plans of violence, and others include anti-vaxxers who urge others to avoid the COVID-19 vaccine. Social media companies should be able to restrict their users’ speech to prevent the spread of misinformation, hate speech and the incitement of violence.
Former President Donald Trump is known for largely using Twitter to share his messages, which are often unprofessional, disorganized and offensive. His extensive use of Twitter could have contributed to his loss in the 2020 election, but since the election results were tallied, Trump has been non-stop in claiming that the election was rigged, tweeting messages such as: “I concede NOTHING! We have a long way to go. This was RIGGED.”
His tweets following the events in the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 were the last straw, resulting in a temporary and then permanent ban from the platform. Many claim that he incited the violence at the Capitol, with a combination of his encouraging tweets and battle cries during his rally the same morning. If Trump was banned before or if his tweets were restricted, the U.S. Capitol riot may have been avoided, and his notion that the election was rigged would have gained much less traction. Had platforms restricted his spread of disinformation and calls to violence earlier, then he would have been unable to incite such a major event that resulted in over 100 injured and five dead.
Similar to how the country is split on politics, the COVID-19 vaccine has become a controversial topic, as many have their reservations about it. People’s freedom of speech is not protected by the First Amendment when it comes to private companies, and it becomes even more of an issue when they propagate misinformation about the vaccine. A study conducted by Science Daily found that nearly 20% of respondents have been exposed to false information regarding vaccines, mainly through social media. Restricting users’ speech about health topics like this is necessary for reliable information to be given to the general public, which gets a big portion of their news from social media.
An issue that has been going on for years is hate speech being spread online by white supremacist groups in particular. Groups like these should not have a platform to gather like-minded individuals and plan attacks on others. This only results in violence, which could be easily avoided if the hate speech is restricted. While it is legal to have these groups, as soon as they begin inciting violence or even planning a violent act, social media platforms should step in to restrict these users.
Some might say social media restrictions shouldn’t exist because most of these platforms are free to use and are open to the public, and that you should be able to say whatever you want. This argument could be supported by the First Amendment right to free speech, but these protections only protect users from federal and state interference, according to Forbes. Social media is run by private companies, meaning they have the right to ban users and are not subject to the First Amendment.
Restricting some social media users would result in a less divided, more peaceful nation in the midst of a highly politically charged time. Such a simple change could have and still can prevent violence and misinformation being spread.
In the founding days of the United States, James Madison placed the right to free speech at the very beginning of the Bill of Rights. Since then, the highest courts of the land have ruled time again and time again that the Americans have the right to speak their minds, no matter what they are speaking about. This is one of the most fundamental rights in this country, and it should be protected, especially in this online age.
While online platforms are not administered by the government, they can be even more influential in the lives of modern Americans. Social media companies have the ability to restrict users’ speech, but if we don’t give the government this sort of power, then we shouldn’t let social media companies have it. The government has been very careful not to let this right be infringed upon, ruling in multiple court cases to favor the freedom of speech of the individual over the government except in cases of immediate danger to national security. There are no such protections for those using online platforms.
If Twitter can decide to remove people from their platform for approval of the government and public, then they can easily remove people who do not deserve it for the same reason. If they can remove hate groups, then they can remove non-violent groups just as easily as others if they decide that it constitutes a hate group.
It is irrefutable that hate groups are dangerous, but if we give big social media companies the ability to decide that for us, then there is no stopping them from removing anyone that they do not agree with. An example of this would be when the New York Post published an article about President Biden’s son Hunter’s dealings with the Ukraine company Burisma in October of 2020. According to NPR, Facebook and Twitter worked in tandem to effectively eradicate the article from their platforms, with Twitter even going so far as to make it impossible for anyone to share the link to the article. These companies effectively destroyed an article by refusing its circulation, preventing it from reaching thousands of people despite it being credible and important information.
Some argue that these actions are necessary to remove dangerous people and ideas from these platforms. However, even enacting blanket bans and removing swaths of the Internet from social media still won’t remove them from the Internet. They will simply move to other platforms that are smaller or less well regulated.
Allowing social media companies to restrict media unchecked gives them too much power and is the springboard into having free speech rights infringed online. After all, if Donald Trump is getting banned one day, the next day it could just as easily be you being cast out for expressing “wrong” political opinions.
Freshman Christian Peters
“No. Assuming that ‘censor’ means to prevent someone from saying something, social media should not be able to censor their users because people have the right to post and say whatever they want, regardless of who it bothers.”
Sophomore Isabella Bushong
“Yes. Many users of different social media sites don’t correctly use them, which I think can have major consequences, like the spreading of misinformation or the harassment of others.”
Junior Charlotte Fosnaugh
“Yes. It’s their company and they should be able to censor whoever they want to censor. They create guidelines and rules, and if you break those, then the social media companies should have every right to ban or censor people who break those.”
Senior Phillip Martin
“Yes. Social media companies should be able to censor their users in case of illegal activities in comments or posts. Also, they need the ability to monitor bullying and other dangerous activities happening among their users.”
Science teacher Josh Butcher
“Yes. Platforms should be able to censor content if the post endangers a living creature or encourages violence towards a group of living things: plants, animals, and especially people.”