Social media is, for many, the tool to use to get their voices heard. Whether it’s contributing your thoughts on the hashtag #whatyouneedin5words or voicing more serious political opinions, sites like Twitter exist to get your 140 characters seen by as many people as possible.
However, as always, there are some who abuse this right to free speech and post racist, sexist and generally hateful content right where everyone can see it. Some of these users, sometimes known as ‘trolls’, are more malicious and seek out specific targets for their abuse. Such breaches of Twitter policy often lead to these accounts being banned, but it raises an important question: should Twitter have the power to censor what we can and cannot see?
An example of this censorship dates back to August 2014 when images and footage of the American Journalist James Foley being brutally beheaded by Isis emerged, but were removed by Twitter at the request of his family members. However, within 2 hours, almost 4,000 Tweets had been sent with the hashtag #ISISmediablackout.
“As unpleasant as Milo & Trumps tweets are, they don’t actually violate Twitter’s hateful conduct policy”
This might suggest that, actually, people want to view this kind of content, either for the sake of keeping up to date with world events or because these images, deemed by Twitter to be graphic content, do not seem to disturb people in the same way they perhaps used to.
Some more recent examples include the banning of a number of alt-right users, such as British journalist Milo Yiannopoulos whose catalogue of awful comments include: “gay rights have made us dumber”, calling rape culture “a fantasy” and his encouraging of Twitter trolls to attack Ghostbusters actress Leslie Jones with racist abuse.
Described by some as ‘the world’s most powerful troll’, incoming American President Donald Trump is another prominent figure and Twitter user whose often racist, derogatory and insulting rants call into question where the line between free speech and censorship should be drawn.
Unpleasant as they are, his Tweets don’t actually violate Twitter’s hateful conduct policy which states that:
“You may not promote violence against or directly attack or threaten other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or disease. We also do not allow accounts whose primary purpose is inciting harm towards others on the basis of these categories.”
In today’s oversensitive world, it may come as a surprise that these accounts aren’t shut down much quicker. Though allowing them to exist would also mean their names are out there, easily accessed, and would be inviting any number of consequences to come their way, they would also be able to spread their hateful messages – not just changing the way some people think to their favour but causing much upset for the people on the receiving end of this online abuse.
Censoring important facts to manipulate news stories? No. Censoring people’s offensive and malevolent tirades on social media? Yes.
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