The Right of the Freedom of Speech on Social Media

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Incalculable amount of diverse political views is posted on social media every day, including extreme ones. It becomes a contentious topic whether or not free speech should be protected on social media? And if yes, how free it should be?

The right of the freedom of speech on social media should be protected without limit. Even though the difference of opinion may escalate into a severer physical violence or chaotic rallies, there is more dangerous if dissent was not allowed to exist.

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Individuals and groups can basically convey political views through two main types of channels: traditional one and progressive one. Oral speech, written materials and newspaper are traditional forms and broadcast, television and social media can be considered progressive forms. From the perspective of expressing personal opinions and engaging with others, cyberspace is an indispensable extension of reality where the users are still endowed with the basic human right—the right to free speech.

However, advocating absolute free speech is somewhat ideal and theoretical in today’s earth. Because not all social media users have the same right to speech free: in China, Russia and some Middle Eastern countries, politics are sensitive topics to talk about on social media. However, despite the fact that every country has nuance in their political systems, dissent should be allowed in terms of political views. First, as Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. famously put it, “the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market, and that truth is the only ground upon which their wished safely can be carried out.” History testifies that only wise and humane political views live long through either short-time and long-time political chaos, and no progress which eventually made a better society is pushed by sheer agreement. Second, a society where disagreement is silenced resembles autocracy, which is proven by history to be dangerous and fragile, and easily collapse. Because where dissent is suppressed, the principle of democracy is lost; the people are turned against themselves. Therefore, the freedom of expressing one’s political opinion should not be restricted on social media.

Some say that the social media are an important outlet for political expression, but not all of them are democratic and may not foster the communicative practices that support democracy and that makes regulation necessary. As evidence, when Milo Yiannopoulos, then alt-right Breitbart editor was invited to speak at UC Berkeley, outraged protesters, saying they wouldn’t put up with the violent rhetoric of Mile, Trump or the fascistic alt-right, attacked police barricades and destroyed property. Finally, a peaceful protest was escalated into a violent chaos.

These worries above make sense to a certain extent. However, one extremely important point in their argument is, who can be the regulator? The government? Or the social media companies such as Facebook or Twitter? No matter who is suggested to be responsible, there is a danger. On the one hand, internet companies cannot be given the power to censor users’ contents, since they will become overly powerful and Facebook has already given a bad example for leaking users’ data. On the other hand, government is also improper to be the regulator. If what potentially causes social turmoil should be banned, isn’t it a violation to citizen’s freedom of speech and a dangerous signal to a strongman regime?

Of course, when people see the ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) have hosted press conferences, raised money on Twitter, and other social media, it is understandable to worry about that political expressions on social media would be too easy to be disseminated and therefore manipulated for political purposes. Potential for changing online arguments into real conflicts made some people hold the view that political views should not be restricted or banned on social media. However, social media are nothing but channels of communication; if this kind of dangerous extremists cannot express on social media, they would turn to websites, secret television channels, broadcasts and publications. It is impossible to ban all of them. Therefore, how to fight terrorism and violent extremism in the Internet age is not a simple question with a quick solution. If opponents hope to address the problem by prohibition, the harms will definitely over the help.

From the perspective of exchanging ideas and expressing personal opinion, social media could be considered as an extension of the real world, so the freedom of discussing politics should be a fundamental human right and belongs to every individual. Although the potential for online arguments escalating into physical rallies or worse conflict does exist, social media are merely the channels of communication rather than the fuses of dispute. On the contrary, restricting the public to expressing political views freely on social media will raise public dissent in the long term. Even though the propaganda of terrorism and other conflicts is a severe issue on social media, how to draw the line between prohibiting terrorism and proper regulation not hurting freedom of speech is a long-term question worth attention. 

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