Censorship in Social Media: Inernet Control

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 Within the last decade social media has become more prominent in the day-to-day lives of people around the globe. Because of this, the digital space has also taken on a role as a public forum; individuals exchange and interact with a variety of information including news and politics through social media. With their rise as public forums, the massive social media companies have recently fallen under scrutiny with how they handle filtering and censorship on their platforms. Some individuals, including members of the United States government, have started to believe that social media companies are too powerful in their ability to censor users while acting essentially as a public forum. The impact of censorship in social media can be seen through examples of social media censorship in the United States and in other countries, the use of social media filters, and the effects that censorship has on social media usage.

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The internet and subsequently social media platforms have a global presence. Internationally, the legality of social media censorship has come into question. Government regulation has even been implemented in some countries including India and China . These regulations can range from post content to blocking a social media platform entirely from citizens under that government’s jurisdiction. There are a multitude of reasons as to why governments decide what information their citizens are exposed to: authoritarian control of media houses and differing belief systems, to name a couple . The most common reason for censoring social media websites is the potential that the content has to disrupt the peace of the state .

Some countries have turned to social media alternatives for their citizens in order to avoid content that would be deemed illegal or unacceptable by their governing bodies. For example, China has created alternatives to Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. Although these websites are state-approved, citizens still do not have the same rights to utilize them in the same way that United States citizens would be able to use their social media platforms.

Many posts and even platform accounts are removed due to the content that they produce and share even on these state-approved websites. China intentionally attempts to withhold information from its citizens, even doing so by the actions they take in controlling what social media presence is available. Many social media users have caught onto this and have begun to stage protests by further complicating the ways in which they use China’s social media alternatives , risking punishment going even as far as imprisonment as a result of not conforming to government regulations. These protesters combat censorship by using embedded photos and usernames in order to hide sensitive information that they share on their platforms . They also create new accounts every time their original accounts are disabled to keep sharing information.

Despite the measures that protesters have taken in order to spread information, research shows that during a 2014 Occupy movement in Hong Kong 34% of Occupy Movement-related posts were deleted by Weibo (The Chinese alternative to Twitter) within an hour of being posted. In addition, 49.5% of the related posts were deleted within 80 minutes and more than 90% of the posts were deleted within 7 hours of being posted .

As another example of censorship in social media around the globe, in Freedom of Expression on Social Media: Myth or Reality, Govindarajan and Ravindar state “Censorship, in the official sense of the word, is currently not in place in India when it comes to social media like it is in the case of films”. Legally, India does not have a policy for social media filtering in place, however with the introduction of the Information Technology Act Section 66 it became illegal for people to send content through communication technologies that is offensive, menacing, intentionally false, or causing an inconvenience to another person or people . The issue with this policy was the fact that the definition of what could be considered offensive or menacing is subjective and varies between individuals. Because of the loose definitions, many social media accounts were scanned based on what was being posted. Many arrests were made involving social media users that posted content and even users that interacted with the original posts. Protests arose as a result.

In the United States, government interaction is not as common in unless there is an ongoing investigation.There are no legal implications of censorship on social media because companies such as Facebook and Twitter are independent private companies. That being said, the different companies have the ability to use censors and filters as they see fit.  

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