The relationship between content regulation and free speech on Internet platforms has always been a hotly debated topic. This issue involves various interests and rights of the platform, users, government, and society. The main purpose of the early days of the Internet was to create a relatively free, decentralized platform with global shared ownership(Internet Society,2014). As the media has completed the transformation from the relatively private sphere to the public sphere with the help of the upgrading of the Internet, users use the platform to exercise their freedom of speech and supervision rights. As a supervisor without government interference and with power, the media has become the fourth estate (Dutton,2009) outside the executive, judicial, and legislative councils – the media has become a perfect place for personal exercise. As regulatory measures become more sophisticated, people feel that the Internet is beginning to restrict freedom. Does the Internet restrict freedom or expand freedom? This sparked a series of discussions. This article will discuss in depth the relationship between regulation and freedom on the Internet platform from the perspectives of what is free speech, the shortcomings of free speech in reality, the politics of speech, why regulation is needed, and excessive regulation.
Speech is a fundamental individual right whose fundamental function is to protect every citizen from tyranny and adverse influence. It recognizes everyone’s right to make mistakes and allows everyone to hold different opinions and perspectives without malicious persecution or reprisal. Within this framework, no organization or government can violate an individual’s will to legitimately exercise this right. (Barendt, E. 2005) But freedom of speech also exposes many problems in practice and is obvious at both the personal and social levels. On an individual level, we see the damage that actions such as defamation can have on an individual’s reputation and life. However, what is more important is the harm at the social level, because some speech may lead to serious social problems. For example, hate speech can encourage crime and violence, endangering public order and national security. South Korean media published a report on August 6 that the police have arrested and investigated 54 people related to murder threats posted online.
This kind of behavior that promotes terror poses a direct threat to people’s safety and may cause immeasurable harm.
In some conflicts, the sense of boundaries of rights becomes blurred, especially when sensitive topics such as racism are involved. Offensive and irresponsible remarks may aggravate social tensions, and public figures and the media need to assume corresponding social responsibilities when making remarks and consider whether they have a positive impact on public interests. Therefore, media regulation is inevitable because the media has an important influence and responsibility in society and needs to ensure that its speech does not cause social unrest or harm public interests.
At the same time, the politics of speech are constantly changing and are affected by multiple factors. With the rapid development of mass communication tools, the influence of the media has become more extensive and popular. At the same time, however, the authority of the media has declined. Due to the authority of traditional media, their reports are usually trusted by the public, which gives some unscrupulous media the opportunity to manipulate public opinion for their own benefit. For example, during the COVID era, some media published articles claiming that high doses of vitamin C could cure COVID-19, which triggered a rush to buy vitamins, but this statement was later pointed out to be a rumor.
In addition, the concentration of media ownership is also an important trend, with traditional media such as magazines and newspapers gradually shifting from neutrality to commercialization and subject to greater control. Excessive commercialization may result in the media losing its neutral stance, as commercial interests may influence the content and direction of news coverage. At the same time, the professionalization of the news industry also brings challenges. Journalists sometimes introduce their own values into reports, which may affect the objectivity of reports. It resulted in the media losing its neutrality. These issues remind us that media management issues require attention because they can lead to differences in the quality of practitioners and the quality of coverage. These factors may lead to a decline in the power of the media, affecting its role in society.
Finally, the relationship between media and government in different countries also varies from region to region. In Lemley’s article ‘THE SPLINTERNET’ says, In some Western countries such as the United States, the media are free to publish what they want and are free to share it on any platform they want. In other countries, such as China and Russia, the Internet is actually controlled by state political branches, who monitor and block speech they don’t like. (Lemley. 2021) This different relationship will affect the independence of the media and the content of news reports.
To sum up, the politics of speech is affected by the changing economic, technological, and social factors, and the status and role of the media are also constantly evolving. Understanding these trends and challenges is critical to maintaining the independence and objectivity of the media and safeguarding freedom of expression in a democratic society.
“Most users want their Twitter feeds, Facebook pages, and YouTube comments to be free from harassment and pornographic content,” Gillespie writes in All Platforms Moderate. “Whether it’s fake news or live-streamed violence, content moderation has never been more important.” (All Platforms Moderate. 2018). Platforms need to be regulated and content review is the main direction of regulation, it covering published content and feedback content. The review will brings multiple benefits, including ensuring the security of the platform, upload user satisfaction, legal compliance, Brand safety and social stability, etc. First, supervision can help remove restricted and illegal content, maintain the legal compliance of the platform, and ensure the safety and privacy of users. Second, supervision can manage the user experience of the platform and improve content quality, enabling users to better engage and interact. Third, the review also makes the platform suitable for advertisers to place products, as brands often want to ensure that their ads do not appear next to inappropriate content, thereby protecting brand reputation. Fourth, regulation helps to avoid infringement and reduce the risk of intellectual property and copyright infringement. Equally important, regulation can avoid public controversy and mitigate social divisions, ensuring that platforms do not become the focus of controversy. Finally, regulation can also help avoid criticism from governments and politicians, to maintain the reputation and sustainability of the platform. The necessity of regulation lies in the fact that media and Internet platforms have social responsibilities(Cherry, G.2020). Although freedom of speech is important, it may also have negative effects and a balance needs to be found. In addition, platforms are usually driven by data and algorithms Once the platform deviates from its intended direction, governance measures are needed to ensure that the platform’s goals and values are maintained. Therefore, supervision is a core component of the platform, ensuring that it plays a positive role while mitigating potential risks and harms.
In fact, there are still many problems with imperfect supervision and excessive censorship on the platform, including content bias, gender and racial bias, and other issues. Moderation is often outsourced, and moderators often have to deal with the worst content on the web, which can be traumatic for their mental health. They also need to safeguard their rights and ensure that working conditions and support are treated appropriately. The difficulty with content moderation is the need to find a balance between free speech and social responsibility. Exact review standards are difficult to determine and can easily cause public anger and controversy. Many platforms have shown inadequate handling of issues such as bias, hate speech, and racism, which can exacerbate social divisions and inequality(yang, F. 2021). Issues such as sexism, online harassment, and anti-feminism are also complex and often difficult to examine. In addition, the bias of some algorithms may also lead to biased review efforts, further complicating the problem.
Free speech is an important value and social principle that is viewed as a positive idea, and the Internet encourages open public debate and the expression of different views. However, over time, we have also seen some of the complications that come with free speech, including disinformation, hate speech, social tensions, and violations of personal privacy rights. Regulation has therefore become necessary in the age of the internet and social media, although regulation may raise questions about the balance between free speech and censorship. Addressing these issues requires balancing different rights and interests to ensure that review efforts are neither excessive or insufficient, taking into account the social responsibility of the platform and users’ sense of security. We need to constantly find a balance and improve regulatory policies to protect user rights and respond to evolving challenges. This is a complex and important task that requires extensive discussion and joint efforts to achieve.
All Platforms Moderate. (2018). In Gillespie, Custodians of the Internet : Platforms, Content Moderation, and the Hidden Decisions That Shape Social Media (pp. 1–23). Yale University Press,. https://doi.org/10.12987/9780300235029
Barendt, E. (2005). Freedom of speech. OUP Oxford.
Cherry, G. (2020). ‘Extremely Aggressive’ Internet Censorship Spreads in the World’s Democracies. News.Umich. https://news.umich.edu/extremely-aggressive-internet-censorship-spreads-in-the-worlds-democracies/
Dutton. (2009). The Fifth Estate Emerging through the Network of Networks. Prometheus (Saint Lucia, Brisbane, Qld.), 27(1), 1–15. https://doi.org/10.1080/08109020802657453
Lemley. (2021). THE SPLINTERNET. Duke Law Journal, 70(6), 1397–.
Who Makes the Internet Work: The Internet Ecosystem. (2014). Internet Society. https://www.internetsociety.org/internet/who-makes-it-work/
yang, F. (2021). Sexism within Digital Platforms. Policyforum. https://www.policyforum.net/sexism-within-digital-platforms/