Essay 1 – The Seemingly Democratic Nature of Social Media

Social media create a seemingly democratic space where all users (with access) have the same platform to create, disseminate, curate, and consume digital content. Social media are awarded a positive reputation for giving users equal access to the platforms services and platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and many more promise this equality through the platforms “Terms of Agreement” or “Terms of Use”.  Each platform has rules in place to determine how users should behave within the platform and how the site will respond in the case of a violation . However, by seemingly minimizing authority among users, the platforms minimize accountability. Due to the accessibility of social media in the Western world, the majority of the population has an opportunity to participate in the online community. This in turn, gives a platform for users to publish and promote hate speech, racism, incitement to violence, and slander. It is, therefore, the responsibility of the platforms to eliminate such content and work to prevent it in order to protect its users. However, this is not the case. The majority of content on social media goes unnoticed due to small following and lack of sharing. This is where hate speech thrives.

Social media allows for user anonymity. Users can choose not to sign in under their real name or post their real picture when assembling their profile. Therefore, if they choose, they can remain anonymous online. This anonymity allows for users to feel invisible online and therefore, unaccountable. In addition, this anonymity can allow for certain users to express parts of themselves that they couldn’t express in reality without immediate consequences. Once a user is anonymous, they are no longer accountable and therefore, when combined with the equal authority created among social media users, the user has the freedom to express online. This allows for the production and dissemination of hate speech online.

Hate speech online is an increasingly pressing issue. As scholars Lingiardi et al. state “Hate speech lies in a complex nexus with ‘free speech’; individual, group and minority rights; and dignity, liberty and equality. Although there is no universally agreed upon definition of the term, hate speech generally refers to expressions that incite harm” (Lingiardi et al., 2019). The issue with the democratic nature of social media is that there is debate over the freedom of speech and hate speech. If social media is a democracy, then the freedom of speech is a right. Scholars Guiora and Park argue that “The essence of democracy is guaranteeing—and protecting—civil and political rights. Foremost among these rights is freedom of speech. Liberal, democratic governments recognize the right to free speech” (Guiora & Park, 2017).  In addition, scholars Chetty and Alathur state that “Expressing hate speech has become a trend and people are using this as a shortcut way to get instant popularity without putting more effort. Hate speech creates a situation to test the limits of free speech” (Chetty & Alathur, 2018). Thus, I would argue that social media is not a fully democratic space as the platforms are monetizing and controlling users speech. I argue that this is not necessarily a bad thing as in the case of hate speech, filtration and elimination of this content is important in ensuring the safety of other users. However, this process does not succeed in eliminating all or preventing new hate speech from being published online. This is due to the platforms regulation protocols.

Twitter does not promise to monitor content or to remove all problematic content. Twitter’s Terms of Service states “You understand that by using the Services, you may be exposed to Content that might be offensive, harmful, inaccurate or otherwise inappropriate, or in some cases, postings that have been mislabeled or are otherwise deceptive” (Twitter, Inc. 2018). The platform denies responsibility for any content that may be perceived or deemed as negative and/or harmful. In addition, scholar Alkiviadou comments on Facebooks regulation of hate speech by stating that “…if a Facebook user finds material or expression on the network to constitute hate speech, as defined by this network, he or she can report it to Facebook. Facebook will then review it and consider whether or not it does in fact constitute hate speech (according to the opinion of the particular handler)” (Alkiviadou, 2016). Both Twitter and Facebook review and evaluate content as hate speech when reported, but there is no system in place to prevent it from being created and published.

As a member of social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, and as someone who posts as their true self, accepting all accountability and responsibility, I do not feel that social media creates a democratic space. There are power struggles between people of authority and/or importance and those who have no agency. Whether or not they have the same app to post on, who they are posting to is different and whether or not they are being regulated by the platform varies. The platforms work so aggressively to prevent nude photographs from being posted and yet allow so much hate speech to slip through the cracks. There is a hierarchy in the sense that certain people can get away with posting things that others cannot, and this is all due to the platforms own monetization of the site. Therefore, social media is a seemingly democratic space that allows all users to post freely. However, once a post is published, the platforms own regulatory considerations will determine whether or not it will remain published. Unfortunately, this does very little to prevent the spread of hate speech from those is small online communities and from those of high social capital.

Works Cited

Alkiviadou, N. (2018). Hate speech on social media networks: Towards a regulatory framework? Information & Communications Technology Law, 28(1), 1-17.

Chetty, N., & Alathur, S. (2018). Hate speech review in the context of online social networks. Aggression And Violent Behavior, 40, 108-118.

Guiora, A., & Park, E. (2017). Hate Speech on Social Media. Philosophia, 45(3), 957-971.

Lingiardi, V., Carone, N., Semeraro, G., Musto, C., D’Amico, M., & Brena, S. (2019). Mapping Twitter hate speech towards social and sexual minorities: A lexicon-based approach to semantic content analysis. Behaviour & Information Technology, 1-11.

Twitter Terms of Service. (2018, May 25). Retrieved October 8, 2019, from https://twitter.com/en/tos.

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