Free speech or censorship: On which side should social media sites err?

Posted on 02-12-2015 by
Tags: social media , Latest Headlines & Stories

While many people might think “To be or not to be” as being “the question”, the real question that should be ask is: Free Speech or Censorship? With the ability to share videos and images at the tips of our fingers, the frequency of questionable videos (or images) like the beheading of James Foley and the nude photo leak, going viral has increased. An article by EContent posed this question.

So which side should social media sites err on?

Eric R. Chad, of the intellectual property law firm Merchant & Gould, says from a legal perspective, social media sites aren't required to take anything down .They have no responsibility to protect users from potentially troubling or offensive material.

Most sites describe their censorship to some degree within the terms of service (TOS) that all users must agree to. For example, YouTube’s TOS lists several things a user will agree to avoid when uploading videos or making comments. These things regard content with copyrights and trademarks, but for other content, it asks you follow "common-sense rules that will help you steer clear of trouble."

However, in some cases there are existing laws that govern the content some social media users may be sharing. Mark B. Baer, founder of the law corporation Mark B. Baer, Inc. and a frequent contributor to The Huffington Post says to an extent the sites dictate their own rules separate from the government.

"Social media sites are not owned and operated by the government, and therefore, the owners of those sites may limit otherwise constitutionally protected speech,” said Baer. “Sites have been known to allow otherwise constitutionally prohibited material to remain online until ordered otherwise by a court of law. The nude photos of celebrities were removed only after the sites received copyright takedown notices."

It situations like the Foley case, which make Twitter’s decision to delete images and videos of his beheading understandable. However, many still argue that since many people now get their news from social media that those sites should err on the side of free speech. Unfortunately for those who think that, we haven’t quite reached that plateau where enough people do it regularly enough to act on that notion.

One person who believes that sites shouldn’t limit potentially legal material is Robert Quigley, senior lecturer for the School of Journalism at the University of Texas-Austin.

"I think social media sites should err on the side of allowing objectionable material. In the case of a beheading, I think we can all agree that it is horrific,” said Quigley. “However, once we entrust the social media corporations to make morality decisions, we can end up having controversial topics or even noncontroversial topics taken right out of the public discourse."

At the end of the day we should understand that these sites are free and as a result we don’t have the right to post whatever we want when we want to. They have the home-field advantage so to speak. When in Rome, do as the Romans do- play by their rules. If you want to post something that is not allowed by other sites you might want to consider just creating your own site.

Your comment has been posted.   Close
Thank you, your comment requires moderation so it may take a while to appear.   Close