A War on Words: Social Media & Free Speech


Facebook and other social media platforms have seen a huge drop in advertisers recently as companies flock to join the “Stop Hate for Profit” campaign. Over the course of this past week, Lego, Ford and Starbucks have paused marketing on all social mediums. Facebook has seen the most backlash, with more than 750 companies including Coca-Cola, Hershey and Unilever having already temporarily paused their advertising on both Facebook and its subsidiary Instagram. The companies are calling for hate speech, as well as posts advocating violence and racial injustice, to be eradicated from the sites. Considering the nature of the “Stop Hate for Profit” campaign, and the very fact that hate has no place in modern society, the moral dilemma has a clear division. The issue that arises is how such eradication is carried out: how are deletion and censorship to be implemented in a world where words echo far louder and for far longer than they have before?

“We believe more must be done to create welcoming and inclusive online communities, and we believe both business leaders and policy makers need to come together to affect real change,” Starbucks said in a statement on Sunday, as reported by NBC. Most companies are asserting that they will maintain an unwavering stance with paused advertising, refusing to give in until systematic change occurs on the respective platforms. Twitter has become a leading example of how to properly evaluate posts and authorize disclaimers or blocks on such content. Youtube followed suit by banning prominent white nationalists from their platforms, and even Reddit has done its part in suspending forums that support President Trump for violating their code of conduct.

The immediate response from those who have been affected by such action is that these platforms are seeking to block freedom of speech. They are following a liberal agenda that wants to diminish free thinking individuals and censor posts that disagree with their political bias. This sort of rhetoric is just that – rhetoric. Sentiment that is unequivocally false when you take in the bigger picture. Hate and bigotry is a lot like a used jacket, passed around from person to person, never cleaned up, always out of fashion. The issue is that the people who wear it don’t realize how it really makes them look.

Facebook spokesperson Tom Channick told CNN Business, “We take these matters very seriously and respect the feedback from our partners. We’re making real progress keeping hate speech off our platform, and we don’t benefit from this kind of content. But as we’ve said, we make policy changes based on principles, not revenue pressures.” CEO Mark Zuckerberg is no stranger to criticism for his social media policies. Facebook has continually come under fire for not fact-checking political ads or political figures, only adding to the immense dissemination of false information and distorted facts. Unfortunately, the recent initiative probably won’t affect Facebook’s bottom line. As the Washington Post points out, the company has 8 million advertisers, which generated almost all of its approximately $70 billion in ad revenue last year. Most are small businesses.

Interestingly enough, other more-fringe social media sites have taken advantage of the company boycotts and user frustrations. Parler has seen a surge in users in recent weeks. The site touts itself as an “unbiased” social media platform focused on “real user experiences and engagement,” with a strong pull for “disenfranchised” conservative voices. Parler is no different to Twitter or Facebook in the sense that it continues to ban individuals, however, their code of conduct is far more ambiguous and their motives rather unclear. The danger with platforms like Parler is that it provides safety for the hate and bigotry that permeates modern America. Being conservative doesn’t inherently make you a racist, a hateful person, or a bigot. But the fact of the matter is that some conservatives have become complicit to racism, hate, and inflammatory remarks.

Facebook and other social media sites must initiate an eradication of hateful speech at its roots. By eliminating the poisonous rhetoric that pervades fundamental conservative views, then perhaps the conservative tree can grow fewer bad apples. Social media cannot hide behind the veils of “code of conduct” and blindly censor individuals. They must initiate accountability and education for individuals who are sharing inflammatory rhetoric or misinformation. We live in a time where the online world is just as integral to daily life as the offline. Social media platforms have immense power and responsibility. Instead of saying the old jacket is wrong and stupid, perhaps social media can tailor the wearer a new one.