Freedom of speech is a prerequisite for democracy and a necessity for realizing other vital human rights, such as the right to assembly and the right to belief. Thus, promoting freedom of expression is a critical component of the United States as a major world power that has enacted laws to combat social media companies from restricting individuals’ freedom of speech and expression. This research-based report takes an analytical approach to evaluate the increasing trends of restriction of freedom of speech. At its core, this paper discusses the speech laws and approaches employed by the United States to prevent the restriction of individuals’ freedom of speech on social media platforms. The findings illustrate that the current US provided by Section 230 appears to insulate the social media companies from liability. Consequently, social media platforms are being used as a liability in various fields, for instance, advertising. Thus, it is of essence to regulate the main processes on these platforms to avoid spreading misinformation to the followers.
Keywords: social media, public utilities, legislation, freedom of speech
Notably, social media platforms have become the most effective way of communicating due to technological advances all over the world and, more particularly, in the United States. The recent trends included the rapid development of social networks on a global level. The United States occupies a leading position in this field and is considered as one of the top countries experiencing drastic changes. Mainly, the government’s progress in the area makes communication in the US more accessible and, consequently, effective.
Moreover, the significance of online platforms for this purpose is emphasized by their use in business adverts for providing detailed information about a particular job or even post adverts on various job agencies. These resources also facilitate the search for information directly from specialists for students and scholars, even though Google remains preferable for this objective. The resulting expansion of knowledge on different subjects is an alarming trend that can hardly be controlled in the absence of effective legislation. Since social media became common and especially popular among young people, it is essential to develop the mechanism of their regulation, implying measures similar to those for public utilities.
Recent History of Censorship (Restriction of Speech)
The Emergence of Social Media in the United States and its Influence
The growth of online platforms currently used for communication by individuals and entities was a gradual process guided by the concerns of researchers attempting to assess whether this trend was positive or negative. Their intentions were mostly related to the already existing problem in the Internet regarding the freedom of expression, especially when applied to international affairs and business interactions (Benedek & Kettemann, 2020). The alarming nature of the fast paces of social media’s development in the US was emphasized by the higher transparency of shared data because of the facilitated exchange of opinions (Benedek & Kettemann, 2020). In the continuation of the process of adopting new technological solutions, the number of issues was increased due to the desire of citizens to use them for filtering information (Bossetta, 2018). In this way, the influence of the emergence of social media in the United States can be described as the risks of misinformation due to the reliance on sources with dubious credibility and intentional distortions.
Legislation for the Internet and Platform Censorship
The new challenges stemming from the development of online platforms and their rapid evolution, which is still an ongoing process, required the adoption of applicable measures for minimizing the risks described above. The researchers attempted to approach them by using the same mechanisms elaborated for regulating the activity on the Internet in general, but this idea was initially flawed. This standpoint is supported by the fact that legislation and censorship available to them do not provide for the unique problems of social media related to the patterns of distributing information (Bossetta, 2018). Subsequently, these obstacles to forming the proper perceptions of the population regarding different events were attributed to business and politics. These fields were addressed by the government through the introduction of directives for keeping records on big companies to ensure their capability to adhere to the principles of credibility and avoid leaking negative information (Brannon, 2019). However, their actions resembled recommendations, whereas the legal underpinning of online communication is needed when various actors, such as large entities, are involved in the interactions with the citizens.
The following decisions were guided by the discussed gap in the legislation and the necessity for improving platform censorship. Thus, examining the protection of users’ rights to express their opinions as per the First Amendment openly was performed with regard to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, 47 U.S.C. § 230 (Brannon, 2019). The results of this investigation were unsatisfactory: courts tend to hold the impossibility of finding the creators of social media guilty as the First Amendment is applied solely to governmental affairs (Brannon, 2019). It means that the harm caused by the data received via online platforms is entirely unaddressed. The only optimal solution to guarantee the quality of information is to resort to the public function exception for considering the developers of social media apps as state actors (Hooker, 2019). However, this practice has not been adopted yet, and the coordination of their activity is performed only by the owners of these websites as they see fit, implying the complete absence of applicable legal instruments.
How Legislation Which Has Been Passed is Not Enough
The evidence of the insufficiency of the existing legislation is mainly provided by researchers of political campaigns as these events largely employ social media as a means of promoting leaders in the field. The most alarming aspect of this phenomenon is connected to the fact that online communication platforms facilitate the spread of information not only within the United States but also to foreign audiences (Lukito, 2020). The world population is thereby confused by erroneous claims. In turn, the involvement of greater numbers of participants in discussions leads to the seeming reliability of the matters as they are presented by organizations pursuing their interests. At the governmental level, this tendency is supported by the desire of people to share news that can potentially shift one’s perspectives (Wong & Burkell, 2017). In this case, online conversations about political affairs serve as a source of emotional support as opposed to the requirements of credibility (Shensa et al., 2016). As a result, this process cannot be stopped by the authorities since their efforts are not underpinned by legal actions.
Another area affected by the lack of legislation allowing censoring social media is business. Present-day corporations focused on increasing profits improperly used these platforms for their benefit while neglecting the attitudes of some population groups towards advertisements. Thus, for example, they can become a tool of black propaganda or when targeting solely specific population groups in their posts (Lukito, 2020). What is more important, the consequences of similar practices are tragic since young people, who are more vulnerable to them, use social media more often than their older counterparts (Greenwood et al., 2016). In other words, the susceptibility of the affected persons to the formation of negative perceptions is critical for society as confidence in the fact that their rights are violated evokes the desire to protect themselves. The means for this purpose can be violent, whereas the preventive measures can be elaborated by the government by adopting new legislation. Nevertheless, these adversities do not stop the companies from resorting to inappropriate approaches for advertising products, and not other ways but legal interventions can help.
Current Examples and Lawsuits: Explanation
The described tendencies related to both political and business affairs in social media and the stemming disinformation, both intentional and unintentional, are supported by lawsuits. Thus, for instance, during the hearing in 2018, Jack Dorsey, “the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Twitter,” emphasized the importance of the platform for an open exchange of ideas (Brannon, 2019). However, by doing so, he completely neglected the need for monitoring the process legally, and the “content-moderation policies under which they may remove certain content” were presented as a priority (Brannon, 2019). Consequently, the aforementioned neglect of legislation, including the First Amendment and Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, was not viewed as applicable to the matter.
In addition, the actions of both the US government and corporations are guided by the same provisions when investigating cases of violations of this nature. The gaps in the instruments that are supposed to protect people’s rights in the country appear to be unconstitutional. This stance is explained by the fact that justice cannot be achieved without the active participation of the authorities in the process. Meanwhile, it is limited to the regulations suitable only for lawsuits against the government, and this circumstance implies that the actual support of citizens against the threat deriving from social media does not exist.
As for the broader implications of the actions taken by corporations in the United States, they include the increasing freedom of these entities accompanied by greater restrictions for individuals. For example, in the case of advertisements, the lack of regulations means that present-day companies might exacerbate the problem by using the continuously evolving means of gaining profits. Their involvement in online platforms will lead to a growing number of cases in which personal attitudes and rights are directly violated and cannot be protected by the government.
A Solution to the Issue of Censorship
The issue of censorship in social media can be effectively resolved through the changes in the existing legislation. It is clear that these measures might be insufficient in the long run, and, over time, new decisions will be advisable for the protection of US citizens using online platforms for communication. The main focus of this initiative should be the adaptation of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, 47 U.S.C. § 230, as this document is the principal instrument of regulating similar cases (Brannon, 2019). In order to ensure equality of all participants in the matter, it should be modified to make corporations responsible for the violation of the First Amendment. This step will allow courts to appropriately investigate the situations in which the harm caused by social media to the people, including mental conditions, can be addressed (Primack et al., 2017). This aspect is critical for promoting the wellbeing of individuals while also being important for guaranteeing the quality of information with regard to the need for avoiding violations of human rights.
Hence, the freedom of expression and speech provided by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act would be an optimal solution when applied to businesses and political actors. Mainly, specific measures must be taken to ensure monitoring of social media platforms as public utilities, including establishing a “statutory building code” that gives obligatory quality and safety necessities for digital podiums (Greenwood et al., 2016, p. 8). The various social media platforms shareholders should ensure those guidelines are strictly followed.
The Influence on Corporations
Moreover, the regular operations of present-day businesses should be modified in accordance with the suggested changes. They would be mentioned in the examined section of the Communications Decency Act so that entrepreneurs could not directly violate any of them. For instance, if companies were to produce electrical appliances, they would have to be keener on product safety measures instead of advertising in the first place. The rush to create a Facebook business account to market the goods will be substituted by thorough testing and examination of perceptions of the potential customers. Also, social networks creators should interfere in the process of evaluating all possible tribulations regarding their design and production decisions to ensure the lack of negative impact on their users. In particular, the promotion of brands by influencers should be subject to this condition as they are widely employed by businesses around the country.
The described shifts in the existing practices will affect all companies and manufacturers in the United States, but the influence is to be of a temporary nature. At first, their profits will significantly decrease as a result of the relative unawareness of the population regarding the realized products. Also, they might struggle with funds when their advertising campaigns will require attracting specialists who need higher payments for their work. However, in the continuation of the process of implementing the suggested changes, the situation will gradually improve. The positive trends will be conditional upon better trust between entrepreneurs and customers stemming from the respect of everyone’s rights and appropriate representation in social media. Also, the image of the companies will be restored even though they might have promoted the unfair treatment of the population groups that were seemingly excluded from their offers.
The Influence on the US Government
The influence of the suggested changes in legislation on the US government will be connected to its greater involvement in the resolution of the emerging issues of violating citizens’ rights. Hence, the principal outcome, which will be achieved over time, will be the necessity to allocate funds for research in order to prevent problems, which can happen due to a variety of online resources. For instance, one cannot compare the regular operations of blogs and forums and communication apps, such as Facebook or Twitter (McCay-Peet & Quan-Haase, 2017). The patterns of spreading misinformation for them will differ depending on their design, and the elaboration of methods for its prevention will require careful consideration. In turn, the exposure to this threat will be effectively addressed only if a sufficient number of specialists is hired for this purpose, which means additional expenses. Their efforts will be mainly directed on discovering false data, and the financial outcomes of this process are hard to predict. It means that the performance of the proposed change will be accompanied by difficulties with funding.
Another challenge, explaining the influence of the suggestions on the government, is the emergence of viral content that is difficult to prevent. For the authorities, it will mean the requirement for creating the teams regularly monitoring the data as opposed to the temporary engagement of specialists described above. In order to suspend posts of this nature, facts should be cross-checked to ensure that the public offers legit information. Consequently, censorship will be more suitable for the platforms while presenting new budget lines for the country. This burden will be complemented by the checks of recommended news feeds determining why the information should be released to viewers or listeners. In addition, illegalization to bar people from accessing certain content based on race or domination should also be discouraged since this practice makes social networking biased and, thus, hard to regulate.
However, the impact will not be solely negative as a positive shift will be gradually performed as in the case of corporations considered above. Discouraging restrictions for people of color in the US to join various Facebook pages will improve the affected persons’ perceptions regarding their protection by the authorities. State-controlled newsgroups will be labeled, and this measure will guarantee that there are no misquotations when it comes to news source citations. Followers will be able to log into their desired web pages, thus avoiding misinformation, and the government’s representatives will have access to credible statistics.
Meanwhile, the number of times a message can be forwarded to different large recipients will be limited, and the teams monitoring the process will have better control over it. Subsequently, user interfaces designed to confuse, such as making it hard to delete your user account, will be banned, thereby facilitating these efforts. In the end, only the relevant information will be available on different social media platforms, which will improve the communication between governmental entities and individuals. Moreover, this decision will help prevent informational chaos that poses a threat to American democracy. The details provided by social networks will allow modifying their core tasks and algorithms when supported by the authorities, and the reliability of the exchange of opinions will be established by scrutinizing the technological advances.
In conclusion, social media platforms need to be regulated as public utilities in the United States to ensure that citizens effectively access online resources. The suggested measures will make individuals and entities cautious about what they post or write on the Internet. The discussed ideas will prevent disinformation and guarantee the efficient work of the authorities and the corporations while instilling trust in people. They will allow appropriately educating, entertaining, researching, advertising, and event marketing without causing the concerns of scholars. The initiatives are to be costly, but these expenses are unavoidable when human rights are at stake. Therefore, changing Section 230 by including companies in its provisions will give an opportunity for regulating the online environment. In other words, liability will be adequately shared by the parties, and the legal claims will be investigated for a more universal guarantee of respect.
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