The First Amendment and Social Media Etiquette: Student Perspectives from Emily Inthalangsy and Addeline Morlan

Emily Inthalangsy 

Imagine if Earth only had one news source that we all look to when a world event occurs. What would society be like? Most importantly, how would we know what we’re reading is true? A lot of news outlets are extremely biased, which leads to reports that spew information that mostly contains the reporter’s personal opinions. An informative article or news segment that is too opinionated can lead the audience to believe false information that is rooted in the reporter’s opinions. Despite biased news, there are also lots of sources that are not biased and will put out fully accurate stories regarding the event they’re reporting. Though biased news typically isn’t the best route to go when looking for information, it’s essential that it stays.  

Even if the biased outlet is pouring out inaccurate news or saying things that are downright offensive or stereotypical, it helps the public filter and find accurate information. The Freedom Forum Institute states, “over the long run, free speech actually improves our political decision-making… robust protection of freedom of speech, including speech advocating crime and revolution, actually works to make the country more stable, increasing rather than decreasing our ability to maintain law and order.” Different from other forms of entertainment, we almost need “bad” articles in order to understand different perspectives, which allow people to form their own opinions.  

At a quick glance, restrictions and regulations on speech sound like a great idea to protect those that are often targeted, however it could quickly lead to more destruction. Our voice is our most powerful weapon. If the government were to regulate what the public is allowed to say, no positive change would ever be made. Our voices and free speech is what allows us to speak our minds in order to hold onto our beliefs and create change. A 2017 study from the Cato Institute states that “Americans say political correctness has silenced discussions society needs to have.” Permitting free speech grants us to have those uncomfortable conversations that are needed to make change.  

Do I believe that everyone should be allowed to spew harmful and hateful words? Absolutely not. Will setting punishments for open hate speech make the world better? Still no. At the same time, it would be very difficult to completely rid the world of hate speech, because everyone has their own opinions about what is considered offensive. In addition to this, people will ever stop saying stereotypical or offensive things, because it’s unfortunately second nature these days. It’s painfully normalized and I don’t believe that anything would be able to stop it, even if the government has a say in it. 

When it comes to social media, I have mixed opinions about current regulations. Technically, everyone is free to say whatever they want, but of course, that doesn’t mean every person should be throwing out posts full of hateful words. Personally, I don’t want to go on Twitter each day and see racists call minority groups five slurs in a sentence, or explain why people of color don’t “belong,” so banning users for saying these things doesn’t sound like a bad idea whatsoever. On the other hand, this is essentially taking away a form of free speech, which is something that cannot be done for previously discussed reasons. At the same time, there are absolutely things that need to be taken off platforms. For instance, Andrew Tate was banned from several platforms just a few months ago because of his hurtful, and inaccurate posts about women and other topics. Tate’s content was corrupting the minds of the young boys that consumed his content, leading them to believe everything he says. It was more than necessary for Tate’s accounts to be deleted. With that being said, it’s okay and fully necessary for social media platforms to ban users, but only in extreme cases.  

To tie into social media, we are also in the midst of “cancel culture.” Canceling someone usually never works the way it’s intended to. No matter what a celebrity does, they will always have fans that continue to support them, even if their actions seem unforgivable. Let’s take R. Kelly and Chris Brown for example. Kelly is being incarcerated for six counts of child pornography, and Brown has several abuse charges under his belt, yet people continue to listen to their music, watch their videos, and see them in concert. There will always be people that come to the defense of those that have been “canceled.” However, canceling someone is the first step in accountability. If a person sees that what they have said or done is receiving backlash, more often than not, they’ll apologize and (hopefully) conduct personal research about what they have done is not acceptable. Without a doubt, there are still some that simply do not care and will never be willing to change no matter what is said to them. Jay Park is a very popular Korean-American musician who is mostly known for continuously doing and showing cultural appropriation in his music videos, as well as writing lyrics that are very offensive to specific minority groups. Park has been called out constantly for his behavior, yet he never learns. Instead of releasing sincere apologies or making changes, he calls those offended too “sensitive.” Sometimes a person does need to be “canceled” in order to learn. A simple “stop that!” frequently doesn’t make the change we wish to see happen.  

It’s essential that we protect our rights to free speech in order to allow everyone to create their own beliefs and opinions. Being aware of those absurd beliefs is what aids us in holding people accountable, as well as finding ways to make change. Free speech is the one way ticket to making society better, even if it doesn’t seem that way.  

Be the change you wish to see in this world.  

Addeline Morlan

1933 marked the death of intellectual freedom for many in Germany. It occurred when university student groups and leading Nazi members burned over 25,000 books, trying to erase the knowledge and stories that didn’t fit their beliefs or party agenda. Now, the nation is being faced with a similar challenge. While book banning is just one example of censorship taking away peoples’ First Amendment rights, it is becoming a common experience in our communities. This level of restriction has effects just as detrimental as those of 1933. The debate over what the First Amendment rights should include and how it should be regulated is a complex subject, but understanding the significance of the First Amendment is vital to keeping all ideas and voices alive. Freedom of speech means that all voices are allowed to be heard.  

Freedom of Speech plays a vital role in the United States democratic society because it is the structure that holds up our fundamental rights. The Constitution of the United States defines the First Amendment as “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” The First Amendment protects religious liberty, freedom of speech, press, peaceable assembly, and the right to petition the government. This is important because it protects people’s rights to express different values and ideas.  

While all are important, freedom of speech faces the most controversy when discussing the protection of unpopular speech. If only popular speech were protected, there wouldn’t be a need for the First Amendment. Unpopular speech has the same rights to be defended, and if they weren’t defended, even though the contents of the speech may seem contradictory to the standpoint of the First Amendment, then the security of all people’s civil rights and liberties would be at risk.  

Those who argue that hate speech causes harm are correct, however restricting materials and perspectives to only fit the majority would be extremely dangerous. Both unpopular and popular speech have equal rights under the law. Censoring what people deem as “hate speech” would give the government the power to decide which opinions are hateful, which is why there shouldn’t be any restrictions on what we are able to say. The government historically is more likely to prosecute minorities rather than protect them. However, there are restrictions in the law of freedom of expression. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, “freedom of speech does not prevent punishing conduct that intimidates, harasses, or threatens another person, even if words are used. Threatening phone calls, for example, are not constitutionally protected.” 

While opinions cannot be restricted, anything that poses a clear threat or harmful action cannot be protected by the law. Censoring different points of view would have detrimental effects on our society, and would give the government the power to control what opinions and information are shared in our country, taking away our human right to freedom of speech. 

Freedom of speech is now being argued in a new arena. With the new age of social media, there is an argument about how hate speech and misinformation should be regulated and the impacts of cancel culture. Social media companies shouldn’t remove or restrict creators who are just expressing their opinions, but should in cases when it poses a threat to others. There is a gray area of interpretation when it comes to whether the First Amendment can be regulated in private sectors.  

The Accessible Law’s article clarifies and answers the question of how the First Amendment applies to social media platforms when stating, “courts have repeatedly refused arguments that social media platforms are public forums subject to the First Amendment. This reasoning is justified because their networks are private, and merely hosting speech by others does not convert a private platform to a public forum.” This shows how the law loses its right to protect First Amendment rights on social media unless it can be defined as a public forum. This means that private social media platforms can regulate whatever they want, and censor content that is against their guidelines. This can make it hard for content creators to truly express their ideas when the platforms can take it down if they don’t agree or believe that it is inappropriate. This can make social media safer in some respects because it can prevent forms of hate speech, but at the same time, it can be hard for content creators to spread awareness and educate people on these topics. In the case where blocking or removing certain people from public forums, it is decided that it doesn’t violate the First Amendment because it is an exception and against the law. It is different when it happens in the private sector because that is because it is removing people based on their content, which in some cases can be argued as censorship. When materials are removed because the ideologies discussed in those posts are controversial, removing those materials prevents other people from being able to access knowledge that might not be harmful. Just like other removals of material, being denied access to certain content because of ideas or topics discussed in them is an infringement on a person’s ability to have the right to their intellectual freedom.  

While some may argue that it is a company’s right to determine the topics that are best for its audience to consume, one company’s beliefs should not be able to dictate the intellectual freedoms of others. This shows the negative impacts of censorship on people because it’s better to include a wide range of ideas to appeal to all people.  

Cancel culture is toxic and is not the right way to address issues or hold others accountable. Some people believe that cancel culture is the right thing to do, and Intelligence Squared states, “Many see “canceling” as a modern-day means of holding people to account, calling out injustice, and breaking down ingrained systems of prejudice and exploitation, particularly for the historically marginalized.” While this is a crucial step towards recognizing the prejudice in this country, it doesn’t create change or hold people accountable as much as it seems. Cancel culture can create censorship, not through our government, but through our society. It promotes social norms by boycotting and public shaming, and it sets an example of an emotional response to things that people disagree with. Overall, while social media provides a creative outlet, it also puts restrictions on perspectives through regulations and cancel culture.  

Censorship is a direct violation of human rights, and the First Amendment is set into place to make sure that all voices are heard and not oppressed by the government. Restrictions on such rights, even in terms of hate speech on social media and in the public, can undermine these rights by creating an outline of what ideas are acceptable and what are not. This can take us back to Germany in 1933, where freedom of speech was restricted and oppressed. Therefore, it is important to protect freedom of speech and to not put restrictions on unpopular speech. 

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