The impact of free speech on Internet culture: How to balance content moderation and free speech?

“Freedom of Speech Includes The Press” by Wikimedia Commons is licensed under CC BY 2.0 DEED


The Internet has developed rapidly since its inception, successfully changing people’s lifestyles and creating the digital age. It connects people around the world, providing convenience and speed in the dissemination of information. Expressing personal opinions and sharing information on the Internet is a daily routine for netizens. However, with the popularity of the Internet around the world, more and more people are joining the Internet. Among them, there are inevitably some people who spread false information, expose other people’s privacy, and publish hate speech. In response to these problems, many online platforms have adopted content moderation as the main means of network supervision. This post will explore the complex relationship between free speech and content moderation, analyze the impact of public freedom of speech on the atmosphere of online platforms and how to balance content moderation and freedom of speech

No violence no hate speech“by John S. Quarterman is licensed under CC BY 2.0 DEED.

The importance of free speech

Internet freedom is divided into positive freedom and negative freedom. Positive freedom is the freedom to do what you want and negative freedom is the freedom not to be interfered with by external forces (Kelty,2014). Freedom of speech is often seen as a negative freedom. Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966) provides that “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of speech”. However, in order to respect the rights or reputations of others and to safeguard national security or public order, the freedom of speech enjoyed by people will be restricted. Internet users discussing issues on the web come from all over the world, which promotes diversity and innovation in society.

  • According to a statistical survey conducted by Richard et al., (2019), “A 27-country median of 62% say their country protects freedom of speech.”
Freedom of expression index, 1789 to 2022 by Bastian Herre

Teenagers that suffered cyberbullying

More than 70% of middle and high school students report being bullied, and in today’s digital age, this bullying has evolved into cyberbullying. (Harris, 2011) A report from Pew Research Center (2022) showed that 46% of American teenagers have experienced cyberbullying or harassment. It is the lack of content moderation of some of the offensive speech online that leads to the negative consequences of cyberbullying. Adolescents who are cyberbullied have more severe psychopathology and are more suicidal. (Arnon et al., 2022)

Cyber-bullying” by Wikimedia Commons is licensed under CC BY 4.0 Deed

Cyberbullying contributed to the death of a gay San Diego teenager Salvador, who committed suicide in mid-August, according to his family. After Salvador shared a post on social media, someone posted a photo of him, made very homophobic comments about him, and revealed personal details about his real life. Salvador’s friends and family were also tagged to view the post and shame El Salvador. The teenage boy’s body was discovered hours later by his family at their home (Hope Sloop For Dailymail, 2023) A lack of strict content moderation has encouraged cyberbullying – bullies who spread hateful speech online without facing consequences.

Family: Cyberbullying led to suicide of 14-year-old University City boy video owner has blocked this video from being played on other sites)

Necessity of content moderation

Content moderation is a means for online platforms to maintain order, protect users and comply with laws and regulations. It involves auditing and removing non-compliant user-generated content, avoiding infringement, combating piracy, and more. Well-functioning content moderation can optimize the user experience. To protect the public from misleading and deceiving false information. Help create a more respectful and civil online community.

Facebook’s Content Moderation Challenge

As of July 2023, Facebook had 2.99 billion monthly active users. (Smperth,2023) Facebook has a very active user base, which means that the social media giant faces huge content review challenges every day. But in the past few years, Facebook has been accused of suboptimal moderation of misinformation and hate speech. Facebook states in its Online Transparency Centre that among actioned content, over 97% of the content it acts upon is identified and taken down before users report it. (Crystal, 2023) There is an “among actioned content” that is important to note. Actually In 2021 internal documentation, researchers appraised that the corporation eliminated fewer than 5 percent of all hate speech on Facebook. (Crystal, 2023) “its language competency is still insufficient, and it has not yet developed automated tools” (Crystal, 2023) Navigating moderation standards can be daunting for online platforms, as failure to remove harmful content may result in public backlash. This amplifies the challenges of achieving a balance between free speech and content moderation.

Former Facebook Engineer Speaks Out About Misinformation, Hate Speech On Platform by NBC News(2020) Access from:

Balancing free speech and content moderation

  • Clear and clear regulations on social platforms:

Establishing clear regulations on social platforms is the first step to balance freedom of speech and content moderation. These regulations should detail what content is not allowed and what is allowed, as well as the standards and procedures for content moderation. Clear regulations help reduce disputes and ensure consistency, to ensure that the examiner’s decisions are fair. Avoid mishandling and suffering the wrath of netizens. Provides a stable foundation for the development of the Internet community.

  • Prizes for user feedback or reports:

Many times, people will laugh off inappropriate comments or get into arguments with them. If the platform can handle users’ reports in a timely manner and provide certain rewards, such as platform coupons, or display the whistleblower’s posts to more people, let him get some traffic and attention. Then there will be no fish that slip through the net and affect the Internet atmosphere. User feedback is a valuable source of information that can reveal potential problems and help the platform gradually improve to a certain extent. The platform can also establish closer connections with users and better meet user needs.

Balance Scales” by Chris Potter is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 DEED

“The Three Ground Rules for Interviews” by Roger H. Goun is licensed under CC BY 4.0 Deed

  • Transparency and impartiality:

Transparency and impartiality are critical to content moderation. Platforms should publicly explain the reasons for removing content or punishing users, so that users can correct their mistakes, stop posting inappropriate content, and use their right to freedom of speech in a healthy way. Openness also helps the credibility of the platform. Platforms that block people’s accounts for no reason are prone to losing users.

  • Carry out social education and publicity:

Promote personal rights, public rights, the importance of content moderation and the limitations of free speech to everyone. Users will learn to more critically evaluate the credibility of online information, thereby better protecting themselves from misinformation. You can do some tests or games to promote this knowledge to arouse users’ interest and fundamentally reduce the conflicts between freedom of speech and content moderation that may arise in the future.

Facebook, Twitter hearings show ‘lack of transparency’ on content moderation, legal expert says by CNBC International TV.Access from:


In summary, balancing free speech and content moderation is a complex and challenging issue. Clear and clear regulations on social platforms, Prizes for user feedback or reports, Transparency and impartiality and carry out social education and publicity may be able to help to a certain extent. While safeguarding personal rights and public rights, it also help create a more secure, respectful and diverse Internet environment. By working together globally, we can find the right balance between free speech and content moderation to create a more just and inclusive digital world.


Arnon, S., Anat Brunstein Klomek, Visoki, E., Moore, T. M., Argabright, S. T., DiDomenico, G. E., Benton, T. D., & Barzilay, R. (2022). Association of Cyberbullying Experiences and Perpetration With Suicidality in Early Adolescence. JAMA Network Open5(6), e2218746–e2218746.

‌ Crystal, C. (2023, September 7). Facebook, Telegram, and the Ongoing Struggle Against Online Hate Speech. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

‌ Emily, V. (2022, December 15). Teens and Cyberbullying 2022. Pew Research Center: Internet, Science & Tech.

‌ Francis, M. (2023, February 14). N.J. teen’s suicide highlights dangers of social media bullying. Yahoo News; Yahoo News.

‌ Harris, K. (2011, December 8). Attorney General Harris on Cyberbullying. State of California – Department of Justice – Office of the Attorney General.

‌ Hope Sloop For Dailymail. (2023, August 27). Salvador Rios dies as the result of cyberbullying, family claims, as bullies targeted him for being… Mail Online; Daily Mail.

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. (1966). OHCHR.

Kelty. (2014). The Fog of Freedom. In Gillespie, P. J. Boczkowski, & K. A. Foot (Eds.), Media technologies : essays on communication, materiality, and society  (pp. 196–220). The MIT Press.

Nations, U. (2023). What is hate speech? | United Nations. United Nations; United Nations.

Richard, W., Laura, S., & Alexandra, C. (2019, April 29). 2. Publics satisfied with free speech, ability to improve living standards; many are critical of institutions, politicians. Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project.

Smperth. (2023, July 31). Social Media Perth #SMPerth. Social Media Perth #SMPerth.

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