1AF BLOG: VOLTAIRE'S GHOST

Social(ist) Media?


Social media has transformed the art of communication and exploded the reach of speech.

Some thought it would make communication -- not only easier and faster -- but also freer. Sadly that is not always the case. Freedom of speech is being quashed by online platforms and various forms of expression blacklisted as “hate speech.”

Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Microsoft have been working with the European Commission and European Union members states to create a speech Code of Conduct.

As part of the agreement, Facebook and Twitter have to flag and remove content deemed as "hate speech," and promote content from organizations that meet with the EU's approval. The initiative is necessary, according to the European Commission press release, because:

[T]he Commission and the [communications] Companies recognise that the spread of illegal hate speech online not only negatively affects the groups or individuals that it targets, it also negatively impacts those who speak out for freedom, tolerance and non-discrimination in our open societies and has a chilling effect on the democratic discourse on online platforms.

But don't worry: European bureaucrats are on the case, taking the lead “to deliver best practice training on countering hateful rhetoric and prejudice and increase the scale of their proactive outreach to CSOs to help them deliver effective counter speech campaigns.”

Great.

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of this code is that it allows government entities and service providers to officially police what people can say and read online. But that salt ready happening, unofficially. In America, former Facebook employees have admitted that they filtered out conservative news content, providing a biased feed for their users.

About 65 percent of adults in the United States use social networking sites. That’s at least 157 million Americans potentially affected by online policing of unacceptable speech. Chances are you're one of them, because you probably found this blog through a social networking site: 30 percent of adult users get their news from Facebook, 10 percent from YouTube, and 8 percent from Twitter.

Freedom of speech is crucial for innovation and idea formation. Sometimes it brings unfavorable and offensive opinions into the light. Fear of exposure to these unpopular ideas should not be the propeller behind speech regulation. Perhaps famed lawyer and jurist Alan Dershowitz said it best:

[I]t would be wrong...to censor or punish...despicable expression. Freedom of speech means freedom for those who you despise, and freedom to express the most despicable views. It also means that the government cannot pick and choose which expressions to authorize and which to prevent.

Contrary to what the EU and those who run these social media platforms think, censorship does not protect individuals from “hate speech”. It weakens individuals more than their exposure to these ideas. We have a right to say what we want, and others have the freedom to choose not to hear it. That agency should not be taken away.

We should join the battle of ideas, not shrink from it. So in the words of John Mayer, say what you need to say.


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