Commentary

Commentary: Free to Tweet

C.Song/The Phillipian

Social media should be a virtual platform for people from diverse backgrounds and differing viewpoints to effortlessly connect and share their beliefs. Unfortunately, social media companies are limiting free speech by censoring opinions posted on their websites. Twitter, in particular, has been accused countless times of removing and “shadow banning” users for politically motivated reasons. As a private company, Twitter has every right to censor and control content as they see fit. But their use of censorship to sway the political views of the general public is harmful to political discourse and an abuse of power.

Censorship of radical opinions on social media seems beneficial at face value. In theory, it promotes less controversial and more rational discussion among users. By drawing the lines and deciding which opinions are acceptable, however, Twitter is allowing their own political beliefs to bias them against people with differing views. Through “shadow banning,” Twitter is making accounts of specific conservative leaders less accessible to readers. In early July, Twitter was exposed for its shadow banning of the accounts of several prominent leaders of the G.O.P., including Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel and Congressman Devin Nunes, according to Vice News. This is not an isolated event, but rather one example amid a sweeping campaign from Twitter to narrow the range of political views deemed acceptable on their websites.

Harmful statements and opinions such as racism or the persecution of others based on religious views should absolutely not be tolerated. However, by removing only radical conservatives and allowing equally radical leftists to spread hateful ideology, social media companies are not even-handed when dealing with those who promote these unacceptable views. Twitter, for example, wiped the accounts of controversial far-right pundits Milo Yiannopoulos and Tommy Robinson for speech which they deemed hateful, but refused to suspend the account of radical leftist and black supremacist Louis            

Farrakhan, despite his detestable tweets comparing Jews to termites and his long history of anti-Semitic and homophobic remarks. Contemptible views must be dealt with equally, regardless of the political leanings of the overhead social media company.

Proponents of social media censorship argue that a lack of action on the part of Twitter — allowing radical and uninformed opinions to stay on the internet — is extremely detrimental. However, allowing certain extremist opinions on social media may actually have a beneficial side. Since many of these opinions on the far end of the ideological spectrum do not stand up well under criticism, seeing negative feedback and counter arguments may cause the author of the post to begin to question their own views in a way they would not otherwise have done had they been simply removed. When their opinions are removed, users will often flock to other corners of the internet filled with likeminded people, becoming even more radicalized with no one to challenge them.

Sadly, in many cases, censorship causes radical users to feel like their opinions are much more validated, and that social media companies are censoring them for spreading the “truth.” For instance, after conspiracy theorist Alex Jones had his accounts wiped from several social media websites he was quoted as saying, “I was taken down, not because we lied but because we tell the truth and because we were popular.”

In an ideal world, social media would be a place where people could gather and civilly discuss their opinions, brainstorm new ideas, and effectively problem solve pressing issues. In reality, social media companies are currently attempting to control this open discourse by suppressing beliefs that differ from their own. I would prefer that they allow all opinions, liberal or conservative, to be heard, criticized, and discussed, so that people can personally decide what to believe. The internet should be an unrestrained marketplace of ideas where all respectful opinions are free from censorship, but none are free from criticism.    

Aidan Pretti is a two-year Lower from Incline Village, Nev. Contact the author apretti21@andover.edu.

Nov 9, 2018