Social Media and The Complications Defining of Free Speech

In a world of hate speech, where does the freedom to speak cross this line?

Social Media and The Complications Defining of Free Speech

“You just have to flood a country’s public square with enough raw sewage. You just have to raise enough questions, spread enough dirt, plan enough conspiracy theorizing, that citizens no longer know what to believe.” 

Former President Barack Obama at the Stanford Cyber Policy Center event with the Obama Foundation

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The writers of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution never envisioned a person at home, hiding behind a computer, being caustic, racist or sexist. When the First Amendment was written, one would stand in the town square and announce their grievances. 

Things have changed, just ask Mr. Musk.

Now, with bots, trolls, and false identities using social media to pillage and rant, we must look at things differently. While these challenges can be readily managed by third-party applications, fighting words, by contrast, are intended to cause the hearer to react to the speaker. Being hateful, bullying, or harassing people online is not a First Amendment right. The fighting words doctrine allows government to limit speech when it is likely to incite immediate violence or retaliation by the recipients of the words. Although this doctrine remains a notable exception to speech protected by the First Amendment, the Supreme Court has limited the scope of this doctrine when governments seek to restrict free speech.

But what if you could stop those words from happening – without going to the Supreme Court – and still allow people to share their thoughts in an open discourse of differing opinions or experiences simply by moderating comments?  

The power of social media platforms is based upon their capacity to connect users in new ways and create new avenues for interaction. For individuals, enterprises, and governments, they facilitate new pathways for reaching an audience, promoting a product, and fostering communities. For small businesses they allow users to share their positive or negative experiences, and provide valued feedback

And, while these are important issues of social media at large, Respondology prefers to start with a more basic approach. Instead of controlling comments, or content, we help sports teams and consumer brands moderate critical content in a way that will help build the credibility of those brands while creating a wholistic and safe space for their audiences. The goal is to have a following that is satisfied knowing that their points are being taken seriously, but without having sewage in the town square. 

There has been an unfortunate rise in hate, harassment, and general vitriol targeting women, LGBTQ people, African Americans, Hispanic/Latinx, Asian Americans, and religions such as Judaism or Islam. On average, 53% of online multiplayer gamers believe they experience harassment because of race/ethnicity, religion, gender, or sexual orientation. ADL, July 2019, Free to Play.

Above all else, we want brands to prosper from community commentary, both positive and critical, just not hateful. Because, as communications experts will tell you, it’s not whether a brand gets a negative review, it’s all about how one deals with it. Negative reviews can actually provide a better opportunity for an organization to reach out and build a stronger relationship. 

But we can’t get anywhere as a democracy – or a business – if all we’re doing is standing in the public square and filling it with racist, homophobic, and transphobic hate and harassment. And while we wait for social platforms to incorporate words and phrases that can help identify hate speech, it has been a long time coming.  Brand and organizations can take action now. Businesses should and can actively monitor and moderate their social platforms to assure a balanced discourse is taking place while protecting at-risk communities from damaging hate-speech and disinformation. 

“Solving the disinformation problem won’t cure all that ails our democracies or tears at the fabric of our world, but it can help tamp down divisions and let us rebuild the trust and solidarity needed to make our democracy stronger.” Former President Barack Obama 

Not just our democracy, but society as a whole.

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