Social media sees victory in free speech
Though something as simple as a Facebook "like" may not seem like a big deal, a recent court decision ensures that it will be protected free speech.
As the ways in which people communicate on the internet increase, so do the places in which speech can be limited. Public methods of expression like opinion pieces, art and other publications used to be quite formal. They would have to undergo official publishing processes or be displayed in order for people to receive their message.
These methods of expression became somewhat less formal with the advent of the internet, as people could post to online forums or blogs and communicate with email. However, it was not until social media came about that speech was almost as easy as it would be to simply speak in an everyday setting. Personal profiles on outlets such as Facebook and Twitter allow users to create pages unique to their person, offering them ways to express ideas on anything from the latest Miley Cyrus music video to political conflicts on the other side of the world.
Facebook "like" protected speech
One of the issues that can arise from this kind of speech is what people choose to say on these platforms. Because they are public online communities, any number of people can see what a user posts. On top of this, with the creation of profiles a level of anonymity is removed. Furthermore, people can "say" something without even having to express any specific idea.
This was the main issue of a recent court case that came up in a Virginia court case recently. According to Bloomberg, multiple employees were fired from their jobs because they chose to "like" a potential sheriff's political campaign who was running against their boss.
The case came about after a jailer "liked" a page of a competing sheriff four years ago and was subsequently fired. Initially, the courts ruled that such an action was not a substantive enough action to fall under the category of free speech, however, the Richmond U.S. Court of Appeals recently reversed this ruling.
Part of the controversy surrounding the case was that some saw such an action not so much speech, but the click of a button. However, others argued that other forms of speech such as the donation of money or the uploading of a video are also done using similar actions.
Social media and free speech
This is only the most recent case that explores how free speech should be protected on social media. Because these kinds of conversations are not face to face interactions, and are instead done virtually, there are a number of intricacies that arise. On other platforms, such as Twitter, these issues become increasingly complicated as the lines between free speech and bigotry can become blurred.
The most recent example of such a situation comes following the most recent Miss America pageant in which the winner was of Indian descent. Following Nina Davuluri's victory, many Twitter accounts expressed their dismay with rather racist tweets.
The New York Times explains that some of the tweets went so far as to calling her a member of Al Qaeda. Twitter has run into these kinds of issues before as other people have been the victims of bigoted remarks from sexism to outright rape threats.
The social media platform prides itself in being a promoter of free speech, but with such comments becoming so frequent on the social media sight, this policy has been brought into question for many. This leads many to wonder what role social media should play in free expression when viewing the Facebook story in contrast with the recent tweets about Davuluri's victory.