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Social Media: Freedom or Oppression of Speech?

It’s 2021. We’re living through a pandemic, holding elections, events, and going about our lives in this ever-changing world. When people have something to say, they usually take to social media. It’s one of the best ways to get your message out there. Or is it? Look at how the former President of the United States, Donald Trump’s, twitter account was banned (along with many others) as a result of the attack on the United States Capitol, and the ever increasing censorship of social media. How “free” is our speech on social media? Is censorship always a bad thing?

The 2021 US Capitol Hill Attack

Many democracies are founded on the principle of freedom of speech, a belief that every single person (no matter their opinion) has the right to express themselves freely through any medium they see fit. This should apply to social media too, especially with the growing number of people taking to social media to share their ideas. However, this is where a very controversial problem arises: should social media be censored when it comes to potentially dangerous content? This applies to a lot of the extreme content that often pops up on social platforms. This could include hate speech, vulgar images, polarizing political beliefs, etc. At the moment, the best bet for social media seems to be for them to play a game of balance, allowing people to share their opinions, yet to a certain extent. When content crosses the line between someone generally sharing ideas to being dangerous and manipulative, that’s when social media needs to step in.

Intervention by social media in extreme circumstances has been seen. In July, Twitter banned many accounts that were associated with QAnon, a far-right and pro-Trump group that took social media by storm. QAnon was completely changing people’s lives, but not necessarily in a good way. People’s minds were being twisted and manipulated by harmful propaganda.This included the conspiracy theory that Mr. Trump was facing off against Satan-worshipping paedophiles in positions of power. These accounts were banned before further harm could be done. Donald Trump’s twitter account was permanently suspended in January for a similar reason. In a statement from Twitter, it was done due to the impact Mr. Trump’s tweets were having on society. They suspended it to limit the “risk of further incitement of violence.”

2020–2021 Indian Farmers' Protest

However, Twitter has also recently come under fire by the public after (due to orders from the Indian government) it banned many accounts that were promoting anti-government propaganda in regards to the farmer’s protests. They claimed that these accounts were “inciting violence.” Indian law also prohibits defamatory material to be published on any online platforms. What a coincidence. As a result, the government was able to force Twitter to ban those accounts. Despite this, after facing immeasurable backlash, Twitter reinstated many of the accounts they had previously blocked. The government then gave Twitter a non-compliance notice. More recently, in February, it came to light that India’s home ministry attempted to recruit ordinary citizens to monitor social media posts for “anti-national” activities. There are three categories under this voluntary position: ‘cyber volunteer- unlawful content flagger’, ‘cyber awareness promoter’, and ‘cyber expert.’ To me, these just sound like fancy names trying to mask the fact that the government is indirectly spying on users and creating even more division between people. Friends will spy on friends, family will spy on family, where does it end?

All in all, I do think that there is a problem when it comes to free speech on social media. Yeah, it is important to block potentially dangerous content from being accessed online, but the lines between what is safe and what isn’t are blurry. Most of the time, instead of doing what is right for the general public, personal or political propaganda is given priority. This is blatantly clear in what is currently happening with Twitter in India. Right now, people are being silenced when speaking out against large-scale protests. What does this mean for how much power we truly hold with our words on social media? If people can be stopped from sharing their opinions at any time, what’s the point of social media? When we stop being able to share our opinions on social media, we won’t really be able to do anything or change our world at all. What’s next when it comes to our “freedom” of speech on social media?

Written by Seher Anand

Edited by Thenthamizh SS



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