Social media censorship: Stifling protected and unpopular speech

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Social media censorship: Stifling protected and unpopular speech

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Social media censorship: Stifling protected and unpopular speech

Subheading text
Algorithms keep failing social media users.
    • Author:
    • Author name
    • June 8, 2023

    Since the 2010s, social media platforms have been actively criticized for their inability to tackle the problem of hate speech effectively. They have faced accusations of allowing hate speech to thrive on their platforms and not doing enough to remove it. However, even when they have attempted to take action, they have been known to make mistakes and misjudge the content, leading to further criticism.

    Social media censorship context

    Censorship generally occurs when a social media platform takes a post down in coordination with a government, the public starts reporting a post en masse, content moderators review reports, or algorithms are deployed. All these approaches have proven to be flawed. Multiple activist posts, like those about the Black Lives Matter movement and war-suppressed nations, keep disappearing from social media. 

    As algorithms learn from a dataset, they amplify biases present in this information. There have been instances of artificial intelligence (AI)-driven censorship of posts from marginalized communities, flagging them for using their own language without considering the cultural contexts. Additionally, user-led flagging has often suppressed the right to unpopular speech. In many examples, this implied the freedom to hate, as was demonstrated by Facebook’s removal of Coldplay’s Freedom for Palestine after users reported it as “abusive.”  

    Government interference by making vague laws opens up channels for partisan and political influence on social media, further undermining protected speech. These regulations overtly emphasize takedowns while allowing limited judicial oversight. As such, fair censorship is impossible with the current systems. More people from marginalized communities are needed in the decision-making process to make content moderation fair. 

    Disruptive impact 

    Human rights activists are likely to intensify their criticism of social media censorship. The right to free speech and access to information is enshrined in many international human rights agreements, and violations of these agreements can lead to protests, social unrest, and even international condemnation. The role of human rights activists in advocating for free speech is instrumental in holding governments and private companies accountable for their actions and ensuring that they respect the rights of individuals.

    If users are dissatisfied with the content moderation policies of established platforms, they may switch to alternatives that offer greater freedom of speech and less censorship. These platforms may initially face challenges in gaining traction, but they may be widely accepted over time. In turn, this development can create a market for smaller platforms that can provide greater transparency in how they use algorithms.

    To dampen criticism, existing social media platforms may change their content moderation processes. The introduction of public boards can be expected, which can help to build trust between users and social media companies, and ensure that content moderation policies are fair, consistent, and transparent. Greater transparency can also create a more open and inclusive digital environment where individuals can freely express their opinions and ideas without fear of censorship or retaliation.

    Implications of social media censorship

    Wider implications of social media censorship may include:

    • Creation of independent courts in which users can appeal content takedown decisions.
    • Calls for more training of algorithms using diverse datasets and languages.
    • Censorship making it difficult for small businesses to reach their target audience, resulting in a loss of revenue.
    • The creation of echo chambers, where people only consume content that aligns with their beliefs. This trend could further polarize political views and make it more difficult for people to engage in constructive political discourse.
    • Social media censorship could have a positive impact on addressing the problem of disinformation and misinformation. However, censorship could also lead to the suppression of factual information that goes against the official narrative. This development could lead to a lack of trust in the media and other institutions.
    • Censorship widening the digital divide and limiting access to information for marginalized communities.
    • The development of new technologies that can bypass censorship, which could further enhance digital privacy and security.
    • Censorship making it difficult for activists to organize protests and movements online, which could limit the impact of social activism.
    • Increased lawsuits against organizations and individuals for their social media posts.

    Questions to consider

    • How do you think content moderation can be improved?
    • Will we ever solve the problem of social media censorship?

    Insight references

    The following popular and institutional links were referenced for this insight: