Social Media and Free Speech, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Posted on July 29th 2011

 

Social media and is a fantastic way to get people to express themselves. Whether it it be via a Facebook status, writing on walls, Twitter updates, photos you share, these are all extensions of you and your personality. They help portray your interests, your views and help show people who you are. They offer a platform for you to be yourself, to be creative, to be who you want to be and most importantly, have an audience for all of this.

Unlike in the real world, where social etiquette and manners can sometimes seem restrictive and limiting , people feel they have a greater sense of freedom of expression and/or of speech when using online networks. Of course, content is monitored and can be removed, but with millions of users on sites such as Facebook and Twitter, even YouTube, not every single status, photo or comment can be watched, evaluated and completely controlled. This has arguably lead to a rise in expressions, feelings and ideas from people who may otherwise find it hard to portray themselves how they would like in person and face-to-face with others.

Essentially, social media has changed the way we are able to communicate and behave, not only in groups and society, but with each other.

The Good

What are the possible consequences of this new found, or at least newly perceived, freedom of expression?

  • For people who find it difficult to interact with others in person, the Internet gives them a great way of communicating and not having to feel self conscious or nervous. Everyone has a the right to say what they think and feel and so this is a good way for those less confident to make their stand. It provides a level playing field if you like. When someone feels happy and comfortable, they can express themselves more eloquently and possibly even gain themselves a wide audience which they may otherwise have found difficult to achieve. Why stand in front of hundreds of people and talk if you find that hard, when you can sit at home behind a screen and write about your topics and still get the audience?
  • Whether it is personal or business, such as marketing, you can get your news and views out there. Arguably, it is just as, or even more effective, than a conference room. The power of the re-tweet or Like buttons should not be scowled at. This means that the story or a view of a shy individual can reach a larger audience than it might if they were stood up in front if you making this type of media particularly effective.
  • Social media can help you be your self and invoke confidence to those who need it. This is because you are not having to face personal and intimate criticism or nerves because you do not have to see anyone who may be critical about you. Written comments can inspire healthy debate as you have time to compose yourself, whereas, people criticising you in person can be difficult, cause you to panic and cause you to be defensive. Everyone deserves to have confidence in themselves and their beliefs, and networking can help inspire and educate people in this.

The Bad

 This level of freedom does has its draw backs.

  • People with more fundamental or perhaps morally questionable views  than your average Joe can cause stirs and discomfort. Now, people have the right to believe in what they want but when they express these more extreme views, or attack other people (sexism, racism for example), that offense can be taken and problems begin.

For Example, the man behind the recent attacks in Norway used Twitter to send out his views on the world before he carried out the attacks. Maybe more regulation is needed to help police more extreme views,

A Twitter account attributed to the suspect has also emerged but it only has one post, which is a quote from philosopher John Stuart Mill: "One person with a belief is equal to the force of 100,000 who have only interests."-Courtesy of BBC News Online

Maybe stricter online control and regulations would help alert the authorities in some cases? There is no way to know and it's a very grey area to cover.  There may not even be a right or wrong answer to this question.

  • On a personal aspect, social media can be used for internet bullying and victimising. It gives people the opportunity to upset and gossip 24/7. Online bullying is a serious problem and should not be over looked or dismissed. The victims of bullying at school for example, like to go home and escape, not sign into their computer to be faced with more endless hurtful words.

A Rock And A Hard Place

Social media is a gift. It can be used to make or break a business. It can also make or break a person. The truth is, the moral problems about freedom and expression in real life, can now be applied to the virtual world. Whether we like it or not, or even agree with it, it's liberal enough to be good for people to express themselves and find themselves. It's also liberal enough to provide a soap box for less appropriate beliefs.

Who Wrote This Article

I'm Nikki and I work as part of MarketMeSuite the social media marketing dashboard. And big news... we're now free! Please check it out and be sure to let me know what you think.

~Image source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/freshconservative

~BBC News quote: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-14259989


 

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Nikki Peters

Written as part of a series for MarketMeSuite.com, the Inbox For Social. Try it for free!

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Comments

"Maybe stricter online control and regulations would help alert the authorities in some cases? There is no way to know and it's a very grey area to cover.  There may not even be a right or wrong answer to this question."

I am certain the answer is that the market takes care of this. If someone is spewing hate and nonsense people stop following them. I don't have the right to yell "fire" in a theater but I have the right to be as obnoxious as I want. Sticks and stones... 

Always good to have a healthy debate.
~Tammy, the libertarian CEO ;) 

Hi Tammy! 

 

Maybe I phrased it wrong. I believe people have the right to say what they like in real life and online. My point was that threatening language and behavior should be regulated and prevented. EG,

"I'm going hunt down and hurt Joe Blogs..." That is inappropriate use of social media.

That is the sort of threatening and uncalled for behavior which needs to be stopped. Expressing a view, even if it is considered unsavory is fine, it's when your comments threaten or are perceived to be threatening that the troubles begin.

 

Nikki, Liberal but not Libertarian :)

How do you handle a situation with let's say, a former employee, that is posting rude and inappropriate comments on a company's facebook wall? How do you respond? Do you delete the comment and pretend it didn't happen? Do you respond with what benefits the company has to offer and twist it?

Company's have to be proactive with their approach to social media.  In this situation, I'd respond in an appropriate way to counter the remarks if possible.  I saw a great example of this recently when a facebook poster was critical of an organization that runs a petting zoo with an aquarium.  The organization posted a video of two otters playing in the aquarium.  The negative post was critical of the fact that the organization would "entrap animals for human enjoyment."  The organization's simple response was to explain why these two particular otters couldn't live in the wild, so they were actually helping them.  Ultimately it was a positive response to a negative comment. If you can't counter the remarks, then I'd acknowledge the issue & start a discussion with ways to improve.