The rise of social media has revolutionized communication, granting individuals the freedom to voice their thoughts and ideas. Nonetheless, it is important to recognize that free speech on these platforms is not without constraints. While international conventions and constitutional rights protect the principle of free expression, social media platforms have established their own sets of rules and regulations to define the limits of acceptable speech. This dilemma surrounding free speech on social media brings forth intricate considerations regarding the delicate balance between unhindered expression and the imperative to tackle harmful content.
The limitations of free speech on social media
Free expression, as defined in Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights and protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, grants individuals the right to hold opinions and freely receive and impart information and ideas. However, free speech is not an absolute right, as certain exceptions exist, such as defamation, hate speech, incitement speech, obscenity, and threats of violence.
When it comes to social media platforms, the concept of free speech is governed by their own terms and conditions, which may differ from the broader concept of freedom of speech. Violations of free speech protected by conventions and constitutions are subject to public authority, whereas infringements on free speech as outlined in social media policies are dealt with by private companies.
The rules on social media
Rules and regulations on social media platforms vary, but they generally serve as spaces where people from around the world can express themselves, often enjoying anonymity if they choose. This anonymity allows individuals to freely express both positive and negative opinions. Notably, Facebook ranks among the top 20 social media platforms of 2022 with 2.9 billion users, while Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter hold positions in the list as well.
Meta, owned by Mark Zuckerberg, operates Facebook and Instagram. Instagram prohibits hate speech, bullying, and attacks based on race, sex, religion, and other factors. Twitter, once known as a platform with absolute freedom of speech, underwent policy changes in November 2022. Elon Musk, the owner of Twitter, stated that while freedom of speech is allowed, it does not guarantee freedom of reach. Negative or hate tweets would be deboosted and demonetized. This shift raises the question of whether Twitter is becoming a safe space, although it is too early to determine.
While social media platforms appear to be spaces for expressing opinions, there are limits in place. Violators of platform rules may face suspension or permanent bans. Notable examples include Donald Trump, who was banned from Twitter due to his encouragement of violence during the events of January 6, 2021, at the United States Capitol Building. Andrew Tate, a controversial influencer with misogynistic opinions, was also banned from multiple major social media platforms in August 2022.
Andrew Tate’s case : Influence and Challenges of Social Media Bans
Andrew Tate, a British-American internet personality and former world-champion kickboxer, rose to prominence in 2022 due to his controversial and misogynistic opinions shared on social media. In August 2022, he faced bans from most major social media platforms, excluding Twitter. It is worth noting that his Twitter account had previously been banned in 2017 for posting violent tweets targeting women. However, Elon Musk lifted the ban on Tate’s Twitter account. Despite these bans, numerous videos featuring his opinions remain on the internet, allowing him to maintain influence, particularly among young people. Consequently, one may question the effectiveness of such bans in preventing the spread of his views. Paradoxically, the bans seem to fuel his popularity, as his controversial opinions go viral.
Furthermore, the internet provides Andrew Tate with the means to create multiple accounts, enabling him to access social media even after being banned from his primary account. This was exemplified when Tate claimed to have another account on Uber, challenging the platform to remove his fake account after he was banned from their service. While access to the internet is a right enjoyed by all, not everyone has equal access to social media platforms
Regrettably, the consequences of being suspended or banned from social media platforms appear to be insufficient compared to the impact of the words used. The suspension or banning of individuals due to their actions on social platforms does not necessarily lead to a change in their perspectives or behavior.
In conclusion, while free speech is a universal right, there is a need for reasonable restrictions, even within the realm of social media, in order to foster a peaceful coexistence. The case of Andrew Tate highlights the challenges and limitations of enforcing bans on individuals with controversial views, as the influence and proliferation of their opinions persist beyond the boundaries of social media platforms.
Master 2 Cyberjustice, Promotion 2022-2023