Facebook’s decision to remove account violates the First Amendment. The time has come to hold the company accountable.
Facebook is one of the most powerful companies in the world. Mark Zuckerberg’s site, created to connect Harvard students, now owns three of the largest communication mediums: Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp. The true reach of its influence is just now being understood.
2019 has seen Facebook under fire for their failure to stop fake news. The problem was created by a lack of monitoring and algorithms that boosted stories based on user engagement. All at once, many people realized how massive and influential the site has become.
Last month, under increased pressure, Facebook banned several high-profile accounts for hate speech, including Alex Jones, the infamous conspiracy theorist, and other far-right personalities. Facebook’s decision infringes on freedom of speech, a basic right enjoyed by all Americans, including far-right extremists.
The basis of their decision, hate speech, is protected by the First Amendment, and the company is downplaying their power to try and avoid stricter regulations. Their actions need to be called out for what they are: unconstitutional.
Protection of Hate Speech
The United States Constitution guarantees freedom of speech, with, of course, certain exceptions. While some of these exceptions are obvious, others are harder to determine. It is more difficult, for example, to prove speech incited immediate violence than it is to show you stole someone else’s words.
Hate speech is, despite some misconceptions, protected by the First Amendment. In 2017, the Supreme Court ruled that, “…the proudest boast of our freedom of speech… is that we protect the freedom to express “the thought that we hate”.”
In other words, speech that expresses your opinion is protected, regardless of whether or not it offends someone else. You cannot, of course, knowingly spread false information or threaten to attack the White House. But if your views are simply offensive, they are protected in the United States.
The views of people like Alex Jones can hateful and insulting. They can be uneducated and intentionally inflict pain. One of his most horrible theories, for example, is that the murder of 20 beautiful children at Sandy Hook Elementary was all a hoax.
Viewpoints like this should be rejected or, as Generation Z would say, canceled. The difficult and painful truth to remember is that these opinions are allowed to be published.
If the courts decide to ban opinions only because of their offensiveness, the country would be worse off. Creating an exception for hate speech would create a black hole that would consume every opinion posted on social media.
Anyone can argue that a statement is offensive to them. Your opinion that the ketogenic diet is dangerous could put your profile at risk. Regardless of if your opinion is based on medical studies, it is inherently against the beliefs of faithful keto-dieters, who would have a strong base to silence your voice.
By maintaining the allowance of hate speech, the Supreme Court is protecting the larger interests of Americans. It is better to be confronted with views that differ from our own. It is necessary to challenge new ideas. That is the way we grow and learn, and limiting freedom of expression and speech would ultimately hurt the nation.
Rights of Facebook
As a private company, Facebook has the right to remove content. When you make an account, you give Facebook the right to remove your content, or even your entire profile, if you fail to adhere to the Community Standards.
Facebook identifies hate speech as objectionable content and reserves the right to delete it from its site. Its policy says hate speech is not protected, “because it creates an environment of intimidation and exclusion and in some cases may promote real-world violence.”
As a private company, Facebook can place the importance of having a welcoming community over the rights of the individual. However, Facebook is no longer just a way to connect with old friends and distant relatives. Mark Zuckerberg changed the way we communicate and continues to shape how we understand and learn about other people.
Facebook’s power and influence are too great to leave unchecked, and they know it. A 2018 study showed that 43 percent of adults in the United States got their news from Facebook. Of course, this number does not take into account that Facebook also owns Instagram and WhatApp.
In all, over half of American adults get their news from a Facebook-owned site. As the 2016 election revealed, it is remarkably easy to maintain fake profiles on social media. These sites are channels through which fake news can easily spread without the risk of being taken down.
It is the right of Facebook to regulate content. But, with its role in society now changed, it is its responsibility to allow a diversity of opinions on the site. While it must removed false information, it cannot specifically target certain individuals who are merely expressing an opinion, even if their opinion offends another user.
Its decision to remove individual accounts because of hate speech is ultimately wrong. The rights of the Constitution go above any other policies or rules in the United States. Facebook’s increased influence in society means it now needs to be mindful of how much it regulates individual opinions.
Hate speech is not an exception to the First Amendment. Removing someone’s right to express themselves, even in a mean and cruel way, on social media restricts this right. It negatively impacts the national conversation as you would no longer be confronted with the most uncomfortable and extreme opinions.
Of course, if a person’s speech leads to violence or is threatening, Facebook shutting down of their page is constitutional. But the lack of monitoring by the company is a whole other conversation.