Social media is now the main source of news for the whole world, especially young people: 61% of American millennials say Facebook is their primary source of political news. Social media has portrayed itself as the gatekeeper, people expect the social media to play the role of an impartial arbiter of the information we receive, upholding freedom of speech in the same way as the constitutions of the governments around the world do.
In recent years, we have seen how social media has proved to be a vital way to fuel social movements like the Arab Spring, it should be clear that their job isn’t protecting democracy. Facebook and Twitter — corporations with shares traded on the NASDAQ and the New York Stock Exchange — are responsible first and foremost to their shareholders; their ultimate goal is capturing our attention and keeping it so they can show us advertisements. The First Amendment doesn’t protect a user’s speech on a private company’s site. On the contrary, the First Amendment protects Facebook’s right to say what can appear on its platform.
Social networking sites have the right to disclose as much or as little as it wants about its decision-making process. In practice, that often means it doesn’t. It is to this date unknown why Facebook removed a photo of two men kissing or why it closed the social media gossip site the Shade Room.
“These companies have done a reasonable job of being accountable to government requests, but not to their own private terms of services,” –Jillian Jork
Thousands of moderators work for Facebook who scrutinize material to decide, according to Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, what stays and what is to be removed. Those terms include infractions as specific as directly inciting violence and as wide reaching as anything “misleading, malicious, or discriminatory.”
The process gives them the capability of removing sensitive content like the Castile video that the public has a right to see.
Social media’s, specifically Facebook’s, growing control over information, and its lack of transparency about how it deals with sensitive or political content, has been rightly criticized by people as well as governments. For example, after Facebook was accused of censoring conservative news among its trending topics, Republican senators demanded answers in a formal letter to Mark Zuckerberg. “If Facebook presents its Trending Topics section as the result of a neutral objective algorithm, but it is in fact subjective and filtered to support or suppress particular political viewpoints, Facebook’s assertion that is maintains a ‘platform for people and perspectives from across the political spectrum’ misleads the public,” the letter said.
“They’ve got their users over a barrel, barring some sort of real zeitgeist shift where Facebook’s reclassified as a public utility,” Holland said. “But that’s science fiction territory.”
The only accountability barrier that the social media sites face is the fact that their owners care about their reputation as a global citizen. Freedom of speech is everyone’s right, even if complete freedom of speech on the social media is not provided, at least the people running these sites must be accountable for their actions.
We are yet to see how social media becomes a soap box since we live in a pro-democratic world. The people must have a right to share their perspective regarding issues in any way they want to, if not, it would be an infringement of their right which can call for legal proceedings taken up by the person who’s rights have been infringed.