Freedom Of Speech On Social Media Platforms

Citizens have got this power and freedom of speech for the first time, they will not let go this easily

We have lived through a time that has probably seen the largest technological changes which have changed human behavior forever i.e. the internet and the smartphone. It’s now difficult to remember times when we didn’t have access to either of these. Those times seem very simple. There were landlines and then there was TV. It wasn’t easy to track someone down real-time the way we can today as the media was only one way. We mostly used to watch breaking news on TV or read about it the next day in the papers. Life then seemed quite slow, static and predictable. It was the era of living “offline”.

Today, we are accessible. Our last seen is just a few minutes back. Research says that the average person accesses their phone 250+ times a day! That’s almost every 2-3 mins per waking hour. We are now “online”. In the 2000s, nothing has changed our lives as much as the internet and in the next decade nothing changed it as much as the smartphone. Apple first launched the iPhone in 2007. And it was one of the biggest sweeping technological behavioral changes in my opinion. Since then the internet has been on our palm.

As far as the media is concerned, the biggest change has been inclusiveness. Media was always one way but it moved to becoming inclusive with baby steps. It started by allowing people to comment on articles and tell others what they felt. The media was controlled by the voices that printed it or the ones that aired it. It wasn’t as live and living as it is today. It wasn’t customized, intelligent or as real. Eventuality of decisions such as who will win the elections, how a movie is doing and the latest celebrity gossip was restricted to a discussion with friends around a table. Today the table is larger, it is online, happening with millions of people around us. It’s spreading at the speed of thought.

Today, social media changed the fiber of thought exchange. We can share information with 1000s of our friends within a few seconds. Multiply that exchange through the billions of facebook users and you have the largest news and gossip chamber the world has ever seen. All unpoliced. We are the journalists of our posts, facebook is our channel and our thousand of friends are our viewers. Similarly with Twitter. These are the world’s largest sources of information with billions of self-employed and self-incentivized journalists working round the clock taking in and sharing information with each other. People decide what gets shared and what gets viral. It’s true when it comes to people’s power and everyone loves the freedom to be who they want to be without a worry about being policed. Anybody can hide their true identity and create a fake or parody account on Twitter.

This brings us to another thing-the concept of “liability”, which we now can say doesn’t exist where social media is concerned. For example, when a newspaper publishes a thought, they are liable for their thoughts, but when we publish a view online, we are not liable for its consequences. Here we have just shot an arrow in the world that can now be passed around person to person without the ability to be easily tracked as to where it emanated from. We live in a new world order and the world’s governments and leaders are seeing the bane and the boon of this new order, as we speak. 

They definitely want to exercise control, but it’s not that easy. There are 100s of millions of tweets, facebook and insta posts everyday. It’s impossible to verify veracity, measure the social effects of this information and curtail its movement from person to person.

Some very important questions that face mankind, governments and social platform owners are – Should social media be policed? Who will police it? How do we police it? What responsibility does the platform owner have? Are they responsible for hate speech created on their platform? How do we curtail the risks of social media causing national or global havoc? Should someone’s personal digital post be accessible to central authorities for semantic audit? How do we penalize the 0.1% without taking away the freedom from the 99.9%?

We have gone from the era of full control to no control. And such large sweeps in human behavior change is bound to result in the feeling of loss of control by those in power. Whether it’s from the position of social responsibility or personal interest, they will want to exercise control and this would not be easy. It will have repercussions. Citizens have got this power and freedom of speech for the first time, they will not let go this easily.

The questions posed here continue to swim in grey areas as these will be testing times for policy makers. Every time governments or platform owners decide to snoop into people’s posts or messages, they will be going against the very fabric of the promise that made people adopt these platforms in the first place – the promise of a private space – a land that wouldn’t be policed. What’s left to be seen is who will win – the powerful few or the powerful many.

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