Free Speech & Social Media: How Far Is Too Far?

Free SpeechThe Internet has taken us light years ahead when it comes to freedom of speech, and the advent of social media has given us even more channels through which we can communicate our ideas and opinions. We can blog about politics, post videos about issues we feel strongly about, and get virtually anything off our chests via sites like Facebook, Twitter, WordPress and YouTube. But who makes the call about what is appropriate and what is pushing the bounds of freedom of speech too far?

Wikipedia defines freedom of speech as “the freedom to speak without censorship and/or limitation.” However, this doesn’t mean that we are free to go around saying whatever we want about whomever we want whenever we want. There are certain limitations. For instance, it is illegal to commit slander, telling lies to hurt others, or to say something with the sole purpose of hurting another person or group of people. However, the line between appropriate and inappropriate is blurry when it comes to freedom of speech, and so there is a lot of questioning and controversy in this arena.

The Internet complicates matters even further. It is so easy for someone to upload a video to YouTube, start a group on Facebook, Tweet a statement on Twitter or open a blog and start writing. Millions of people are uploading new content to the Internet every day and it is virtually impossible for anyone to monitor it all and decide what constitutes free speech and what is inappropriate. The fact that people can post things on the Internet anonymously makes it even more likely for troublemakers to express themselves in inappropriate ways online.

Facebook’s Statement of Right and Responsibilities says, “You will not post content that: is hateful, threatening, or pornographic; incites violence; or contains nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence.” However, the site still is faced with removing hate groups on a daily basis, from Anti-Semitic groups to Anti-Muslim groups, Anti-Immigration groups and Anti-Obama groups. Nobody seems to care about the rules, claiming that hate groups are just under the laws of freedom of speech.

As recently as this week, news has been spreading of Jihadist videos being uploaded to YouTube. One video congratulating “the Muslim Ummah on the jaw-breaking blow to Satan’s USA” posted just before the Times Square bombing attempt may have provided leads to investigators searching for the bomber, Faisal Shahzad. The video has been removed from Facebook, but there is no way to stop hateful content from being uploaded and viewed before YouTube is able to find and censor it.

Earlier today we posted about the Thai government’s suspension of Justin.tv in Thailand in order to thwart live streaming protests. Social media channels have also been banned in other countries around the world including China, Turkey and Iran to stave off government opposition and political uprising.

In countries like Thailand, the government has taken it upon themselves to tell citizens when and how they can express themselves. But what about in countries where we have access to all of the channels of communication on the Internet? Who is to say what constitutes free speech and what crosses the line? Do you think we should be able to say whatever we want whenever we want through social media without censorship? How far is too far?

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