In recent years the United States, as well as the rest of the globe, has been faced with a brand-new challenge that no political leader, policymaker, constitution writer, has ever been prepared for. The rise of new social media platforms has led to billions of people’s opinions swarming in front of the public eye, left for the common person to digest and interpret. In a changing, adapting, and globalized world, political leaders are forced to keep up with the trends to remain relevant to their voters and the fast-paced media. Social media allows for “information” to be published from anywhere, at any time, by anyone, causing a confusing cycle of determining legitimate, credible, and true information. This has left the American public frustrated, fearful, offended, and confused as to how they ought to expect the government, social media platforms, and other citizens to respond to an ever politicized and fast-paced culture.
About one year ago, Former President Donald Trump was permanently banned from using Twitter, a decision that shocked many. This decision from Twitter, as well as Facebook, has put social media platforms in the political sphere- a place that they haven’t necessarily been before now. They now have the legitimate power to determine what information the public does see, and what they do not see. This power has given platforms across the internet the unique ability to take a stand against certain political leaders and political topics, in attempts to remove hate speech and false information from their sites. Harvard Business Review published an article on this topic and reminded their readers, “the First Amendment only protects individuals’ speech from U.S. government oppression- there is nothing illegal about a private firm censoring people on its platform” meaning these platforms have the legitimate power to remove accounts and posts from their sites. However, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act states that internet services are not considered the publisher of their user’s information, which gives these platforms the ability to not take responsibility for their user’s ignorant words. This act could raise a moral dilemma problem of who will take responsibility for these words and their effect on people’s everyday lives.
The United Nations defines hate speech as, “any kind of communication in speech, writing or behavior, that attacks or uses pejorative or discriminatory language with reference to a person or a group on the basis of who they are, in other words, based on their religion, ethnicity, nationality, race, color, descent, gender or other identity factors”. This definition is helpful, except for the fact that what might be interpreted or considered as hate speech could differ from different platform’s biases and lenses. Therefore, it leaves much power in the interpretation of the social media platform to determine what speech they deem harmful, violent, and dangerous. Social media platforms have become the most influential way of promoting information and obtaining information around the globe. In the past several years, people are starting to understand the effects it can have on democracy, as well as the health of the individual. There is a rise of people who have seen this as an issue and are calling individual platforms and the government to a higher standard. However, the debate that is taking place is over whose responsibility and role it is to set in place these guidelines.
In a Council on Foreign Relations article about social media and how the government should handle these tech giants, the authors argue that many of these independent tech platforms have no incentive to participate in regulating information due to “their ad-driven business models rely on keeping users engaged”. These platform’s main financial motivation is the ability to share adds to a target audience, gaining high engagement from their viewers. Throughout the 2020 Presidential Election Season, there were thousands of ads circulating with misleading, polarizing information that benefited one candidate and bashed the other. These ads are sold to social media platforms for thousands of dollars, which gives them the ability to directly target an audience and gain enormous amounts of money due to their audience accuracy. However, this can be seen as an immoral practice due to as social media platforms can directly target certain people to gain millions of dollars, they have little to no moral incentives to protect the public from hate speech and false information.
The United States government should put laws in place for social media platforms to abide by which better protect the public from the spread of hate speech and false information. One way that our government can do this is by amending and adding regulations to current laws on publishing sites to enforce a user option on if they want the information that is showing up through their platform to be regulated (filtered through the platform’s policies) or not. This places the choice in the individual’s hands-on how much information they want to interact with, but it also makes these social media platforms accountable to the information on their sites. Some may argue that this could result in individuals living in an echo chamber of their own beliefs and opinions, however, this is already a reality in the United States of America. This type of regulation can only benefit the American public and promote a safe environment on social media platforms.