A political right is known as “freedom of speech” which entitles people to freely share information and opinions, whether orally, in writing, or by any other form of expression (Australian Government Attorney-General’s Department, n.d.). People’s different points of view are more openly shared through today’s media platforms, and the desire for freedom is becoming an ever-growing obsession for people. Social media networks undeniably give users a certain amount of freedom to express themselves, but do we really achieve freedom of speech completely nowadays? What issues do people have while attempting to use their right to free expression in the age of the Internet?
Social platforms allow people to have freedom of speech.
In the era of the Internet, we have witnessed an incredible expansion in information as well as a diversity of information sources. This is because social media platforms have ended the monopoly of traditional media, enabling more people to express their thoughts and share information. The advancement of Internet technology has made it possible for everyone to create content (Jenkins, 2013). For instance, on the social media site Twitter, individuals from all over the world can post their viewpoints. These political viewpoints, social opinions, and cultural opinions clash on this online platform in accordance with their diverse origins.
It’s challenging to see this kind of diversity in conventional media. The reason is that traditional media are typically governed by a small number of powerful corporations, who will censor the expression of particular viewpoints owing to factors including political pressure and business interests. Therefore, since people may express themselves more freely on social media platforms, it can also be claimed that freedom of expression has contributed to the rapid expansion of these platforms. This variety of perspectives is crucial to creating and sustaining a democratic society because only in a setting that allows for the open expression of different points of view, we can come to a consensus through open debate on issues that are in the best interests of society (Benkler, 2006).
The social media networks Facebook, Twitter, and Weibo make it very simple and quick to get information. This is because these platforms enable users to freely publish and locate information, breaking the conventional information acquisition model and enabling a larger audience to take part in the spread and adoption of information. Social media has improved public information access and broadened the public’s information resource base, which also supports the right to free speech. Additionally, the Internet offers an opportunity for publishing and disseminating news that traditional media ignores or declines to cover. People can receive information more quickly without having to wait for reports from news organizations. This immediacy and openness make information more transparent, and the public is more likely to be exposed to comprehensive and true information, not just what the major media outlets want the public to see.
Challenges to free speech on the internet.
Others, on the other hand, contend that our ability to freely express ourselves on social media platforms is limited. This is due to two factors. One is that according to the First Amendment (U.S. Constitution, n.d.), social media platforms are not subject to freedom of speech laws. So, you cannot have free speech if these social media platforms seek to censor you. At the same time, the exposure of your comments is also controlled by these social platforms.
Another reason is that each country has different policies on freedom of speech. For example, in China, people cannot achieve freedom of speech on the Internet. Most people can communicate freely on American firms’ social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter if they don’t break any of the fundamental guidelines of these programs. In China, there is no such thing as free expression on any social media website. Because every statement you make on social media is subject to government supervision, especially if it involves some politically sensitive information, which you have no way to search if you are in China. On Baidu, China’s largest Internet search engine, there are many things involving political history, and sensitive topics are completely unsearchable. The state wants to protect and control the people through this information monopoly. This is actually a double-edged sword. Although it can effectively control national public opinion, it cannot control people’s curiosity. Some people will be more curious about the blocked truth and use tools such as VPN to find the truth on social platforms from Western countries. This also makes these curious people more likely to be influenced by false information and hate speech.
In the face of these issues and challenges, in order to achieve complete freedom of expression, we need to balance freedom of expression with other interests in society. We should express our opinions without hurting others, spreading false information, affecting the rights of others, intimidating, threatening, or defaming others. Regarding the regulatory issues mentioned above, the state, non-governmental organizations, and firms constitute the platform governance triangle (Gorwa, 2019). Digital platform companies are both governors and governed objects (Gillespie, 2017), and are intermediaries between the country, market, and society. Therefore, digital platform companies are the core of solving the problem. The government should strictly manage and regulate these social platforms and technology companies. At the same time, it should also protect freedom of speech on the Internet and prevent unnecessary censorship and supervision. This requires ensuring that social media platforms do not abuse their power to unduly restrict speech.
Social platforms and technology companies should be transparent about their content moderation policies, clearly stating what types of content are banned and the procedures for dealing with violating content. And they should handle problems strictly according to the procedures, there should be no exceptions. At the same time, these technology companies should also bear certain legal responsibilities, especially for platforms that spread hate speech, false information, and illegal content. They should encourage diversity to reflect the voices and perspectives of different communities and cultures. This can be achieved by supporting niche communities, cultural education, and the openness of public platforms. The United Nations and some international organizations should also change their provisions to include these private companies and protect people’s freedom of speech on social media more effectively and authoritatively. Governments should uphold press freedom, guarantee that news organizations can carry out their responsibilities impartially and independently, properly monitor government operations, and reveal corruption and improper behavior. It is not a simple problem to resolve how different countries handle free speech. Even though we are aware that all individuals deserve the right to free expression, every nation still has its own unique system of government. Along with respecting national differences, we should refrain from comparing and criticizing one another via the internet.
In conclusion, free speech on the Internet is a key factor in safeguarding democracy, individual freedom, and social development. And it is important that freedom is not about being arrogant but refusing to be controlled. It helps to better monitor government actions, promote innovation and cultural diversity more quickly, and protect individual freedoms and rights. On social media platforms, people can speak more freely than in previous traditional media. The timeliness and openness of information on social media platforms allow people to communicate their opinions faster. However, in the face of the challenge of freedom of speech on the Internet, it is urgent to make digital platform companies subject to legal constraints and improve the terms of freedom of speech. Because if we can’t achieve complete freedom of speech online and on social media, then we don’t have any meaningful freedom of speech at all.
Australian Government Attorney-General’s Department. (n.d.). Right to freedom of opinion and expression.
Benkler, Y. (2006). The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom. Yale University Press. https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.ezproxy.library.sydney.edu.au/lib/usyd/detail.action?pq-origsite=primo&docID=3419996
Gillespie, T. (2018). All Platforms Moderate. Yale University Press, 1-23. https://doi.org/10.12987/9780300235029
Gorwa, R. (2019). The platform governance triangle: Conceptualising the informal regulation of online content. Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society, 8(2), 1-22. https://doi.org/10.14763/2019.2.1407
Jenkins, H., Ford, S., & Green, J. (2013). Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture. NYU Press. https://doi. org/10.18574/9780814743515
U.S. Constitution. (n.d.). First Amendment Fundamental Freedoms.