Social media is one of the primary means people have to communicate with each other. With the use of mobile devices, more messages are sent and statuses are posted than at any point in history. A great deal of this content is productive. It consists of individuals expressing themselves and pushing their ideas out to the masses. At the same time, there’s a great deal of misinformation being passed off as fact and hatred being spewed that’s so potent it would make your head spin.
Each social networking website has a system people can use to report content they find offensive. Many times, these systems work like a charm and offensive content is quickly stricken from the record. Other times, content is allowed to stand, even if someone makes a dedicated effort to report it on multiple occasions. The amount of content streaming from social media is so massive that it’s no wonder these websites have a hard time staying ahead of the worst of it.
Cyberbullying has led to an enormous amount of suicides in the LGBT community. People come out of the woodwork to post homophobic or transphobic content in droves. When Caitlyn Jenner introduced herself to the world, Twitter was crowded with so many terrible comments that it had a hard time updating to keep up with the new ones coming in. Nobody has publicly condemned these reprehensible comments and Twitter seems to not want to do anything about them either.
Freedom of speech is a right that nobody should mess with. We should all have the opportunity to say what we want when we want to say it. Twitter is a private organization that hosts a service that allows people to use it for free. If they were to clamp down on these horrendous comments, they would be well within their right to do so. Eliminating these comments from the social media landscape would not affect a large majority of what people post on a daily basis.
Certain websites have filters in place that block people from using particular words. In the event that someone decides to use them, they’re either prevented from doing so or the words are scrambled in a way where nobody can decipher them. Why can’t this kind of filter be put in place on social networking websites? Following the implementation of a filter, there would be some outrage, but it would almost certainly die down.
The people who would throw their arms up in disgust at the introduction of content filters on social networking websites would be the people for which the filters were intended. Their presence on these websites is a poison social media companies have no interest in curing. They would rather pretend that their community is doing a good job of doing their policing for them. A filter would pick up all the content that would have normally gone unreported or fallen through the cracks.
Cleansing social media of nonsense and hatred would do nothing to eliminate the attitudes that lead to this content being created in the first place. It would do a great deal to prevent them from being perpetuated through social media. This change might seem inconsequential and unnecessary for some, but when the fact that social media content reverberates and has real life consequences, we have to look at this shift as a tremendously important development.
We cannot expect to change the minds of everyone. Some people might think that censoring anyone is splitting hairs and that there’s always going to be something that will offend someone. Perhaps they’re right. The idea of censorship is one that will have little support in most parts of the world.
The role that social media companies have in the public discourse is one that’s becoming bigger with each passing day. Defining this role is quite the undertaking. We must first determine what form we want this discourse to take. Once we have figured that out, we have to then decide what part each social media company should play. The social media companies themselves have to take it upon themselves to dissolve the undesirable parts of their service. They have to find a way to make their presence positive, no matter what it takes.