Free Speech in the Digital Landscape

Politics * By Ben Deacon

Ben Deacon is a senior management & social entrepreneurship major at Roberts Wesleyan College and a guitarist for ReapR. He is a pro-capitalist with a libertarian slant, looking to depict modern events with a Judeo-Christian worldview.

The American definition of free speech is under review as the internet rapidly expands its influence.

We as individuals are left with the responsibility to reach across the aisle and attempt to honestly understand the concerns of those who disagree with us without looking for a “gotcha” moment to shut down the other side.

On January 8th, 2021, a sitting President of the United States was banned from Twitter and Facebook. The word “unprecedented” has been thrown around a lot over the past year, but the act of cutting off a political leader from the largest social media platforms in the world can only be described under those terms as well as the violent events in the capitol that led to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg making those decisions. This has led to the questions of where the concept of freedom of speech fits in a world where discourse primarily takes place over private social media platforms and whether or not certain statements can be seen as equal to violence.

The issue of censorship on social media platforms is difficult because it relies on the reconciliation of two facts that for the time being will not change:

(1) Free speech is absolute and is guaranteed by the constitution no matter how heinous the words said by an individual or group (some legal exceptions in cases of incitement to violence and slander, but for the purposes of this article it is best to treat free speech as being absolute);

(2) Social media platforms (i.e. Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook) are privately owned companies that are free to set their own rules in terms of what is said on their platforms.

Twitter’s “incitement of violence” policy lead to the ban of now-Former President Trump among other right-wing politicians.

Barring a radical change in the Constitution or the adoption of a “Digital Bill of Rights” as has been proposed by certain lobbyist groups, any debate over online speech needs to treat these facts as absolutely true or else the conversation will go nowhere. With that being said, what is to be done when roughly half of the country feels that they are being censored by large social media corporations? Simply stating the fact that social media companies can do what they want is true, but it doesn’t do anything to push people away from political echo chambers where they are doomed to become radicalized without opposition to their ideas.

So what are we left with? We as individuals are left with the responsibility to reach across the aisle and attempt to honestly understand the concerns of those who disagree with us without looking for a “gotcha” moment to shut down the other side. We are led to possibly spend less time on social media and more time interacting with our friends and family members who hold radically different views as human beings. The United States of America is looking less united every day, but instead of digging our heels in for our ideology of choice at the expense of our fellow countrymen, taking on the radical responsibility to freely speak our mind as honestly as possible and listen to others as openly as possible seems to be the only way forward. No government policy, administration, or social media company can take away your freedom to work as an individual to take on the culture of outrage and partisanship to lead to real unity.

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