Not Very Friendly: Why Social Media is Hurting Free Speech

The First Amendment of the United States of America protects all Americans from unwarranted government restrictions towards speech and expression. This is the right that, some say, is what makes America what it is. The Internet is presumed to be a temple for free speech, as you can go on and write whatever you want, whenever you want. With the Internet becoming so prevalent, particularly with social media, has the Internet fit it’s description as a domain open for opinions? I do not think it has. In fact, I believe that social media has hurt our right to free speech without us even realizing it.

Tim Berners-Lee is one of the, if not ‘The’, pioneer of the Internet and Web we know today. As he opens with in his article, Long Live the Web: A Call for Continued Open Standards and Neutrality, “The world wide web went live, on my physical desktop in Geneva, Switzerland, in December 1990.” With his unprecedented knowledge of the world wide web, Berners-Lee also understands that there are facets of the Internet that can be controlled. He mentions, for example, how totalitarian governments like China have censored and blocked speech on the Internet. He understands that free speech is an integral part of the internet, as he says, “Free speech should be protected, too. The Web should be like a white sheet of paper: ready to be written on, with no control over what is written.” Has the Web become the white sheet of paper that Berners-Lee envisioned? Can it be written on without having to be controlled? Social Media, for example, has kept it from being this clean slate.

The night of the State of Florida v. George Zimmerman verdict was intense for viewers on both sides of the isle. When ‘Not Guilty’ was announced, the social media world exploded. Athletes, celebrities, neighbors and friends all voiced their opinions of it. Were these opinions respected? Not in the slightest. For example, New York Giants Wide Receiver Victor Cruz wrote, “Zimmerman doesn’t last a year before the hood catches up with him.” He received such a backlash from it that he was forced to issue an apology for what he said. Was what he said wrong? Yes. Did he have to apologize for it? Perhaps he did, but I don’t think so. He explains how his emotions caught up to him, but does that mean he has to apologize? He said it, knowing he said it, and that’s what he meant. Simply because some find it offensive or rude does not mean we should attack him for what he said. He has the right to say whatever is on his mind. He has a responsibility to be appropriate on twitter, being a popular athlete, but that doesn’t mean we should call him every name in the book because we do not agree.

These things happen every day on twitter, where a popular figure says something but has to backtrack, delete what they said, and apologize for it because people didn’t respond well to it. What does that say about our right to free speech? Why are we forced to fit the mold that twitter followers and Facebook friends demand from us? It is a disturbing trend that seemingly happens at least once a week. If we see something that we do not agree with, yell about it in the comfort of your own home. We need to stop forcing people, whether it is your favorite athlete or friend next door, to fit this unwritten “mold” that society is creating.

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