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Free speech and facebook: the debate for regulating online content

Author: 
Bora Erdem
Subject Area: 
Social Sciences and Humanities
Abstract: 

The advent of social media, most notably, platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, has been cherished by liberals and progressives alike as the dawn of a new age for free speech and expansion of domain for more civic and efficient communication between diverse groups of individuals and people. The euphoria that defined the prevalent mood in the 2000s later devolved into a more sober and realistic attitude among champions of unrestrained free expression. Once seen as engines of freedom of thought and speech, social media, and Facebook as the subject matter of this paper, are no longer regarded as flawless platforms after the rise of right-wing populism, the ascendancy of inflammatory and hate-driven speech, the prevalent intolerance and online mobbing, and most significantly, the meteoric rise of the post-truth politics in our daily life and political conduct. Not surprisingly, Facebook has found itself at the heart of a sprawling academic and media controversy about the pernicious ramifications of social media on major tenets of social setting and body politic. It now stands trial of a rigorous questioning over its possible role for the reverse of tide regarding free speech. Is Facebook responsible for the current predicament that gripped the platforms and modes of civic social conduct? To what extent, can Facebook be held accountable for the deterioration of free speech, violation of individual rights and encroachment on individual privacy? What would be the limit for free speech or should be any? Should Facebook intervene to remove the content of a hate speech or endorse, no matter what the content is, of unlimited right to free expression? These questions constitute the main structure of this essay. It aims to analyze the central pillars of the current debate regarding the boundaries of free speech and Facebook’s role to define what would be the limitations to restrict what could be written and what not. I’ll dwell upon the arguments of both sides, and will try to show merits and shortcomings of the approach pushing for more interference by Facebook against xenophobic groups while also taking on the stance of those who staunchly oppose any editorial meddling by the social media platform on people’s posts. Furthermore, this essay seeks to explore the roots of setbacks and unwinding of the promising aspects of social media and Facebook in terms of advancing our socialization in public domain. The rise of autocratic leaders around the world, the resurgence of strident populist nationalism has injected new relevance to the debate. Though not for same reasons, Facebook’s CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg found himself being grilled by a group of bipartisan senators in the U.S. Congress over Facebook’s failure to protect private data of tens of millions of users (Roose and Kang, 2018). The ever-growing reach of social media giants have deepened the sense of urgency for reforms to curb their unlimited power over citizens’ private spheres. Facebook, Twitter, Google, Youtube, Apple and Amazon are companies with a staggering amount of data over consumers and people’s habits, attitudes and preferences. Reining in market-driven and unlimited commercial impulses of these companies, according to many observers and politicians, has become an imperative. But this paper is more interested in Facebook’s role in shaping and defining parameters of free speech in today’s world, with its ramifications for social and political conduct. In this respect, it will only focus on Facebook’s role regarding the subject matter. The study draws on a literature review and contains a critical approach regarding existing materials and articles expounding on the issue. While this essay praises the vast opportunity provided by Facebook to widen our social and civic dialogue, it also reminds the existence of perils that woefully break down social decorum and augment xenophobic and hate speech, exactly because of the nature of the same platform, Facebook, which is widely used by marginal groups, white supremacists and fringe nationalists to advance their political goals.

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