Essay on Internet Censorship in 2021

Freedom of speech is our First Amendment right, but in today’s social media world you will be silenced if you don’t support popular opinion. As a United States citizen, I was aware that the First Amendment prohibits any law limiting freedom concerning religion, expression, peaceful assembly, or the right of citizens to petition the government. Just because the times are changing does not mean the Constitution does too. Social media is how the majority of people get their daily news, and that news should be trustworthy and unbiased. The puppet master of this whole scheme is the big tech companies who regulate social media to their liking and get to hind behind Section 230 because they are privately owned. Social media is a good thing, but using social media to support a hidden agenda from silencing users, profiting off inappropriate ads, and using it as a weapon because of political ideology that's when it turns into a bad thing. 

First, let’s briefly establish the type of political climate our country has been under the past four years. Former President Trump was a president you either loved or hated with few people in between. His presidency divided the country and if you were a supporter of his you would be classified as a racist, homophobic, or a radical republican. By establishing that it helps understand this case-study on content moderation on the website Yelp. In June 2018, a photograph circulated on social media platforms of a woman in a red “Make America Great Again” hat that appeared to be screaming at a teenage immigrant activist. The woman was then identified as s Roslyn La Liberte, the proprietor of RC Associates, a contractor in Woodland Hills, California. After being identified the one-star reviews on the companies Yelp page started on June 28, overwhelming reviews depicted La Liberte as a racist as posters assumed her political stance on the issue. In his article entitled, “In Picketing the virtual storefront,” Ben Medeiros stated, “The viral picture made it seem like La Liberte was in the wrong but the teenage boy contended that the conversation had been civil” (Ben Medeiros 9). Yelp then placed its active clean-up on the following day June 29, and the bad reviews settled down two weeks after the incident. In his article entitled, “In Picketing the virtual storefront,” Ben Medeiros says Yelp removed the vast majority of the reviews that were about the incident, but the remaining recommended reviews succeeded in compromising the business's online presence(Medeiros 11).

Next, let’s take a closer look into how the movement “Men are Scum” helped regulate the hate speech and censorship of women on Facebook. Privately-owned companies like Facebook have a lot of  room when it comes to regulating their social media site. Rightfully so because they are privately owned, but their mistake was silencing women's voices. “Men Are Scum”: Self-Regulation, Hate Speech, and Gender-Based Censorship on Facebook by Chloe Nurik took a closer look into how Facebook was profiting off viral memes of women being degraded. Nurik conducted 13 interviews with real women from January to February 2018 and asked them how they have been silenced and had their content removed on Facebook. All of the interviewees replied with similar experiences, a Comedian named Alana shared her story.  In her article “Men Are Scum”: Self-Regulation, Hate Speech, and Gender-Based Censorship on Facebook” Chloe Nurik stated, “In October 2017, Alana, a feminist comedian, and interviewee, became fed up with the relentless harassment and sexist speech directed at her friend on Facebook.”(Chloe Nurik 8). Nurik then goes on to say after Alana’s friend posted 211 screenshots of sexiest comments that were never removed, Alana commented on her friend's post “Men Are Scum”. Alana was reported by another user for hate speech and was banned for 30 days from Facebook (Nurik 8).  Some would question if this is gender-based censorship, this article shows an example of a meme of a woman being tied up and blindfolded with the caption “It's not rape if she really didn’t want to, she’d have said something” (p 14). If you take a look to the right of the meme the ads next to it are the app Candy Crush, a language school, and a local blind advertisement. That’s your proof, a woman calling men scum gets you banned from the site for 30 days, but a meme of a woman being degraded that brings Facebook money from ads gets a pat on the back, and a good job son.

Moving on to my next point, with social media regulation being a broad topic algorithms might not be someone's first concern. An algorithm is a process or set of rules a computer is given by its designer. In her article “Platforms, the First Amendment and Online Speech: Regulating the Filters” by Sofia Grafanaki she states, “When people use Google, they are searching for something with the expectation of being presented with correct and relevant answers to their inputted keywords and queries (Sophia Grafanaki 34). Yes, Google isn't a social media platform but it's the search engine you use to access it. When the user asks Google a question or searches something they’re essentially asking for its viewpoint. Google then gets to decide where your question or information is located on the page or if it's even on there. The algorithm plays the key role in this because the system will follow whatever instructions its creator gave and if they didn't want you to know who a certain person, thing, or who a company was they could wipe it from the whole server which is very powerful and dangerous. 

Finally, after discussing how social media censors people at the end of the day It’s the companies right to under Section 230. Without Section 230 websites and social media platforms wouldn’t be so popular because they would be liable for users' posts and would eventually go out of business. When you make an account on any website it asks you to accept their terms and agreements of their site, everyone will just click accept because they don't have time to read the fine print. In his article “Free Speech on Privately Owned Fora: A Discussion on Speech Freedoms and Policy for Social Media” by Colby. Everett states, “Social media websites utilize community guidelines and moderation to retain users and protect business interests (Colby Everett 8). Community guidelines are the company's rule book and if someone violates that, the company can refer them to the policy for a more detailed explanation. 

To conclude, in the social media era we live in now we must hold big tech companies to a certain standard. We hold our government officials to one, and if the public doesn’t agree with their actions we get to vote for new candidates. Big tech companies have so much power and control we need to hold them accountable. Hate speech and freedom of speech are two different things, and for the users using hate speech, they should be held accountable. Freedom of speech is a right, and different opinions are how people express themselves, educate, and learn. 

Work Cited 

Medeiros Ben. “Picketing the Virtual Storefront: Content Moderation and Political Criticism of Businesses on Yelp”.  International Journal of Communications, Vol. 13, p4857-4873, 2019, 18p 

Nurik Chloe. “Men Are Scum”: Self-Regulation, Hate Speech, and Gender-Based Censorship on Facebook”. International Journal of Communications, Vol. 13, p2878-2898, 2019, 21p. 

Grafanaki, Sofia “Platforms the First Amendment and Online Speech: Regulating the Filters” Pace Law Review, Vol. 39, p111-162,  2018, 53p.

Everet Colby,“Free Speech on Privately Owned Fora: A Discussion on Speech Freedoms and Policy for Social Media”. Kansas Journal of Law & Public Policy, Vol. 28, p113-145, 2018, 33p.