Charlotte Reed, '23
Since former President Trump’s election in 2016, some conservatives and liberals have argued that the government should regulate social media platforms to attain fairness and prevent the spread of “fake news” because media platforms, such as Facebook and Google, are seeking to restrict conservative speech. Many liberals contend that regulation is needed because social media encouraged Trump’s election and the violence that occurred during his presidency.
This past year, the world observed the major impact digital platforms have on society with the insurrection on January 6th, 2021. The idea leading to the insurrection-stopping the Electoral College certification-was mainly initiated over social media. In the past, social media platforms have been reluctant to censor posts about conspiracy theories and “fake news,” but following the insurrection attempt, the leading digital platforms began tagging posts as unreliable and untrue, removing them, and banning people from spreading them, including Trump. Although such activities by social media platforms were legal, were they right?
The first amendment protects freedom of speech by restricting the government’s (federal, state, and local) power to regulate speech on the internet and elsewhere, but the first amendment does not protect one from limitations of speech that may be imposed by a private company. Although the government might start to get more engaged in oversight of social media content, I believe it should be the responsibility of social media platforms to self-regulate profiles and posts more extensively.
Social and traditional media are often looked at through the same lens, but they are fundamentally different. Although they are both profit-driven, their strategies for maximizing profit aren’t the same. Traditional media generally tries to reach a broader audience, while social media relies heavily on pushing highly personalized content to maximize “scroll time” for individual users. Applying the same regulatory framework across both traditional and social media doesn’t work. The “hyper individualized” polarization that is made possible by social media poses a dangerous threat, which the violence seen at the Capitol illustrates.
Many social media platforms already regulate some of the content being posted (for example, YouTube will demonetize certain content), but there is generally an inherent bias in the media that prevents platforms from regulating all posts. This is why many conservatives complain that their voice is being “taken away” when one of their posts is taken down. I think that instead of silencing someone and taking away their ability to express their opinions, even if they are factually wrong, media platforms should work to fact check posts to mark them for misinformation or disinformation (like how Instagram marks posts about COVID-19). This way, expression is still allowed, and freedom of speech remains intact in social media.
The right to freedom of speech and opinion is of fundamental importance in the U.S., so taking it away from someone, no matter their opinion, is wrong.
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