Keep the Government out of Social Media

Shane Shuma ’22, Opinion Columnist

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Last week Mark Zuckerberg called for more governmental regulation of his company, Facebook. Zuckerberg stated that he believed there needed to be a more active role for governments when it comes to privacy and regulating the Internet. He also argued for the government to tell Facebook what would be permitted on its platform, stating, “regulation could set baselines for what’s prohibited and require companies to build systems for keeping harmful content to a bare minimum.” Giving the government the power to regulate speech or set hate speech standards on social media would be a grave mistake. Throughout the world where government has taken a leading role in regulating social media it has led to ridiculous arrests and loss of freedom.

Everywhere government has tried to take a leading role in regulating speech on social media it has ended in less freedom for users. In the United Kingdom, the current standard for regulating Internet content is The Communications Act of 2003, which defines illegal Internet use as “using public electronic communications network in order to cause annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety”. This law is quite vague. If you and I were having a civil debate over Facebook and you made a comment that annoyed me, I guess I could just report you to the police. In fact this has already happened. Irish comedian Graham Lineman and queer activist Adrian Harrop repeatedly got into exchanges on Twitter over transgenderism. One day, after reacting to a video clip of a debate between feminist Posie Parker and Harrop, the police came to Lineman’s house and told him to stop engaging with the activist. They didn’t even tell him which posts Harrop had found offensive or what he had done. In 2018 the feminist who debated Harrop, Posie Parker, was banned from almost every social media for mis-gendering trans women. Instead of blocking the user, mocking the user or alerting the social media company, the activist went straight to the police. And earlier that year a 19-year-old woman was arrested under the Communications Act of 2003 for posting the lyrics to a rap song on Instagram in tribute of a 13-year-old boy who had died in a traffic accident. Her crime? She didn’t redact the n-words used by the rapper in the lyrics.

Censorship has not been limited to the UK. Recently, the European Union passed Article 13 which sweepingly increased copyright protections. Companies such as Google can no longer aggregate news articles as every article must come from a source, they have licenses with, which will hurt small media companies. The law will most likely force social media companies to have pre-filters that automatically take down anything that even remotely appears copyrighted. This will lead to memes and gifs being automatically deleted and will restrict Internet users’ creative freedom. A government should not have that much power to reshape the entire way a continent uses the internet.

The debate that strikes at the core of the issue is whether offensive speech or “hate speech” is protected under free speech rights. Honestly, hate speech is free speech. Should hateful speech go unchallenged? No. Should hateful speech be tolerated? No. Should the government arrest someone for posting something subjectively hateful on Twitter? No. It is not the government’s job to regulate speech, it’s yours as a citizen of this country. If you see a post that incites violence or threatens another person you should report it to the service you’re using. If someone is saying something hateful in public, you can protest or have a civil debate. The reason I don’t want the government to regulate speech on the Internet or anywhere else is because I have more faith in the American people regulating speech than bureaucrats in Washington or anywhere else.