Social media’s role in hate speech

By Paul Wedding


It was reported earlier today that Home Affairs Select Committee report thinks the government should consider fining social media companies for failing to remove illegal or harmful material from their web sites.

Their main argument was on illegal material they had found from web sites such as Twitter and Facebook that showed terrorist recruitment material, promotion of sexual abuse of children and incitement of racial hatred. They said it was shameful that large companies relied on users to report the content.

These social media web sites can very often show hateful content from white supremacy groups and terrorist organizations. And, rightfully so, those that have posted such content should be held accountable. But where I differ from the opinion is on the punishment of these social media websites.

The freedom of press’s original meeting literally meant the freedom to use the printing press. You could print whatever you wanted. And you could also be punished for posing hateful or illegal material. But the difference is that you punished the person, not the printing press.

Sure, Twitter and Facebook and other sites are still run by people, but it’s still a platform like the printing press where you should be free to print what you think. And frankly, I feel any move that could allow further insight into what everyone is posting can only be worse should they want to start using that for content that’s not illegal.

Yes, illegal content should not allow to be put up. But that’s what user reporting is for. If anything genuine is harmful, they’ll quickly block it. We don’t have police officers monitoring every public forum just in case someone says the wrong thing, and that’s how it has to be on social media.

By all means, get rid of hateful content as soon as it’s seen and deemed illegal, and prosecute whomever is responsible, but you cannot punish these digital vessels of the greater public dialog by limiting them their constitutional rights.


Published by

UNT Eagle Strategies

Class members of the social media class in the Mayborn School of Journalism