There is much debate over what is and isn’t protected under the First Amendment, but the issue becomes even murkier when you apply constitutional rights in an online context. Should the First Amendment regulate online speech or just leave it alone? Here are three relevant considerations to make:
Problems with Algorithms
Commentators, politicians and others criticize the major platforms such as YouTube, Twitter and Facebook about their computer algorithms not doing enough to regulate appropriate content. While unregulated algorithms may seem like a good thing from the perspective of protecting universal free speech, this has led to some troubling incidents recently. For example, YouTube star Logan Paul’s infamous video of him laughing at a corpse in Japan’s suicide forest was available to audiences for a long time before it was removed. Additionally, a phenomenon known as “Elsagate” has become increasingly concerning, as young children are encouraged to click on videos with familiar cartoon characters, only to be presented with incredibly inappropriate videos after a few seconds’ introduction. On Facebook, algorithms are still struggling to parse out “fake news” from legitimate news, which has led to incidents like “Pizzagate,” in which a gun-toting man open fired on a pizzeria in Washington D.C. after believing a false online news report. Since there are real consequences to these expressions of speech online, there should probably be more improvements conducted on algorithms that regulate content for viewers of all ages. The tech firms say they are attempting to reign in inappropriate content. Others argue that society must be the ultimate arbiter of acceptable content and not rely on the tech firms to solve the problem.
Does the First Amendment protect those who harass, bully or anonymously send death threats to other people online? Offline, bullying is a serious issue, but the anonymity of online profiles has created a situation where accountability concerns are left in a moral gray area and protections for victims of cyberbullying are less stringent than those implemented in academic and professional environments.
Since cyberbullying is unlikely to go away anytime soon and has led to real consequences (higher rates of young adults feeling depressed or anxious, for instance), then perhaps we should rethink how we protect harmful speech written or spoken online. How can we as a civil society stop people from harassing others if they’re anonymous? Maybe a little transparency could help?
Finally, what can we do about political advertising that is paid for by foreign entities? Slate produced a great article on this subject, which discussed a new piece of legislation called the Honest Ads Act. If implemented, the Honest Ads Act would require large platforms like Twitter and Google to publicize the people and groups that purchased ads ($500 or more) for political elections. The act has not been debated or passed yet, but it could be a good remedy for preventing foreign influence in our country’s elections.
Follow FAV on social media or go to our website and let us know what you think. Joining the discussion is a great way to exercise your citizenship.