Need for social media Policies on hate and incitement

Synopsis- Social media platforms need clear policies on which they commit to a consistent refusal to help heads of state incite violence.

Introduction- On January 6, when the extremists stormed the United States Capitol building, Trump’s social media accounts were active and communicating.

  • After this incident, social media companies blocked particular communications including videos of the speech, and then suspended Trump’s accounts.
  • Eventually, Trump was barred from using Facebook and Twitter.

How a ban on Trump has been justified by companies?

Soon after the ban, Critics pointed out that social media companies should not “censor” a president for making ‘Politically biased decisions’.

As per social media companies, Trump did not stop at expressing dissatisfaction about the electoral outcome. But he chose to insist that the election was “stolen”, calling for action. This took his speech beyond the realm of political opinion into the realm of incitement. Thus,

    • A head of state cannot be allowed to incite violence.
    • If restrictions were not enforced, Social media would have amplified the incitement, given the connection between his words and the violence.
    • Moreover, Trump has access to the mass media, thus it doesn’t affect his freedom of expression.

Challenges in front of Social Media Companies:

The First challenge is regarding what to allow on the platform

    • Social Media platforms have a major impact on public life, thus platforms ought to follow international human rights law, especially the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.
      • For example; they must ensure they do not facilitate genocides such as the Rohingya genocide in Myanmar.
    • On the other hand, Social Media need to ensure democratic debates on the imp. Issues like the COVID-19 virus, vaccines, abortion, Kashmir, LGBTQ rights, or marital rape.

The Second challenge is linked to the speaker

    • Barring a whistle-blower would have more impact compared to the head of state. Because Whistle-blower has no access to mass media.
    • In contrast, a head of state like Trump who is barred from social media has access to the mass media.

The third challenge is regarding the measurement of communication effectiveness

It also varies depending on the speaker and the audience.

    • Incitement by a head of state is more dangerous than incitement by a powerless, ordinary individual because an influential speaker is much more likely to actually incite violence.
    • A powerful leader can persuade his followers that it is acceptable and even righteous to engage in violence.

Why a policy is required?

  • Earlier in mid-2020, Facebook refused to regulate the US President’s inflammatory posts due to its “newsworthiness” exception.
  • Earlier, while Twitter suspended another account posting copies of Trump’s tweets for glorifying violence, left the president’s tweets up. This was because of Twitter’s exception for public or elected officials’ speech which is seen as being in “public interest”.
  • Now, these platforms have taken a step against incitement once the election result is confirmed.

Way Forward

Social media needs to deal with this kind of issue in future very seriously. The platforms like Facebook and Twitter (Fourth Pillar of Democracy) should not be circulating speech that is very likely to cause violence. They need clear policies in which they commit to a consistent refusal to help heads of state incite violence.




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