The issue of freedom of speech in American society is very acute, as it is the guarantor of democracy in the country. In recent decades, the development of freedom of speech has been heavily influenced by the Internet and content consumption by people. People no longer consume information from several speakers who can complete it and submit it to their liking. Every person now lives in the ‘market of ideas,’ with the help of which he can choose any information for consumption and express agreement with it. Modern social networks largely dictate the rules for bans on freedom of speech. It applies to all spheres of public life, including the political, which especially needs autonomy. Many experts associate the presence of comprehensive restrictions with the established social imbalance. It leads to particular cruelty, which borders not just on the principles of freedom of speech but on humanism and the value of human life. Currently, social networks control modern restrictions on freedom of speech in many ways, affecting all aspects of people’s lives to reduce the existing imbalance and avoid cruelty and open hatred.
The Role of Social Networks
Considering the impact of social networks on restrictions on freedom of speech is impossible without a global reassessment of the consumption of information on the Internet. In the last decade, more and more people can afford to organize unique information flows that will meet only their personal needs. Balkin (2017) asks the question: “Is the Internet a private space or a public space?” (p. 21). It is an important question that will allow people to understand whether the Internet can achieve freedom of speech, which was not available to television, or not; many Americans relied on the Internet 15 years ago. Viala-Gaudefroy (2021) writes: “For many Americans, freedom – especially freedom of speech – is the most cherished founding principle of the nation’s identity, and they see it is a tenet of American exceptionalism.” That is why for many, the dreams of restrictions on social networks have become collapsed.
However, these restrictions are easily explained in both legal and social terms. All platforms, forums, and social networks have owners and individuals. They have the right to delete pages or entries that they consider impartial since all users of a conditional social network are only guests on a site generously provided by a private person, the creator. Usually, different Internet communities have rules that their owners made, and by registering in a particular social network or forum, a person is responsible for the implementation of these rules. Thus, in social networks, the imposed restrictions on freedom of speech are entirely controlled by the platform’s creators and can be motivated by any scandal or unflattering topic. It is difficult to single out specific prohibitions cases since there are no developed algorithms and rules, except classical ones, such as inciting racial hatred and threatening minorities.
Politics needs freedom of speech, which is why US courts allow unduly large financial campaigns during elections. In theory, it will enable people who want to sincerely support the politician they like and feel involved in the country’s life. In practice, journalists only find out about new corruption cases, and many of them are unconscious since bribe-takers are always guided in their thinking by the First Amendment. Currently, “we see a rise in populism, increased political polarization, and an increase in provocative and extremist speech on social networks” (Viala-Gaudefroy, 2021). An illustrative example was the capture of the Capitol and all the political speeches of Donald Trump, already located on the Internet. The state is a compelling apparatus with enormous powers; it is a priori necessary not to let extremist statements that can incite hatred into the space of speech. The denial of opponents or the previous regime (the transfer of power from Donald Trump to Joseph Biden can be called revolutionary and precisely denying, refusing) must be balanced and reasonable.
American society is very diverse, affecting the agenda promoted on the Internet or television. People usually want to protect the rights of minorities or avoid direct conflict with their representatives. That is why some creators of Internet platforms decide to censor. In this regard, it is essential to mention that the “First amendment doesn’t address or prevent censorship imposed by private individuals and private businesses who can apply their freedom of commerce as they see fit” (Viala-Gaudefroy, 2021). Usually, they try to be gentle, and the censorship is indirect. Soft censorship usually consists of platform owners not violently blocking questionable signals but only trying to redirect viewers’ attention to other sources of information. Sometimes such speakers can be ridiculed and given temporary blocks for them. The exceptions are influential severe conflicts or those that have received active support in the media and have a comprehensive audience coverage. The more anger the comment towards minorities expresses, the less hope the response to censorship and blocking will be soft.
Hate Speech, Cruelty, and Bullying
A striking example of restrictions on freedom of speech is the use of hate speech. Hate speech is the key to the emergence of a surge of hostility from one social group to another, and people in the information space try to avoid it. However, some can manipulate with hate speech, calling on listeners to be aggressive and support their position. It is a powerful ideological and rhetorical communication model when the speaker conveys the main message not through the content of the text but intonations and marker words. Sometimes people cannot see a real call to violence behind a meaningfully adequate text since the speaker used neutral expressions denoting humiliation or mockery of someone several times.
The use of hate speech is a contentious issue that involves habits and culture. One phrase, word, or name will be adequate in a small Texas town, but, having arrived in New York and given public interviews, society can ostracize the speaker for such a categorical apparatus. However, bullying in social networks at the level of non-media personalities still exists without prohibitions and is a definite expression of the freedom of the word (Pinkus, 2021). It is not justified, as many cases of bullying can be considered as calls for suicide, contrary to the US law.
Social networks have become platforms for people looking for like-minded people; many hope to express their opinions without prohibitions. As private property, social networks have the right to block any expression considered (in their opinion) to be slander, calling for violence and cruelty. Even political life can be subject to social media’s rules. Politics needs almost unlimited freedom of speech, but the situation is ambivalent here. Being a powerful area of human activity, the political cannot allow slurs and hate speech into its space, as this will directly affect the social imbalance. American society is not homogeneous, and more and more people are interested in not entering into open conflicts with minorities. Some internet platforms decide to censor to avoid becoming involved in violent disputes over protecting rights. There is still a lot of hate speech, cruelty, and bullying on the Internet that are hard to track and block. Thus, freedom of speech can be truncated with calls for hatred, cruel discrimination, and slander. It is essential to understand every person’s inalienable right to criticize adequately. However, there is a big difference between such a narrative and open aggression.
Balkin, J. M. (2017). Digital speech and democratic culture: A theory of freedom of expression for the information society. Law and Society Approaches to Cyberspace, 325-382. Routledge.
Pinkus, B. M. (2021). The limits of free speech in social media. Accessible Law. Web.
Viala-Gaudefroy, J. (2021). The idolization of free speech in the United States. The Conversation. Web.