Hate speech on social media
Happy New Year, everyone. We want so much for 2021 to be different, don’t we? Well, it can be when it comes to our personal lives, but politics? Not so much. Public policy? I don’t think so. Hate speech on social media? I wish we could have solved that yesterday. But, the truth is that we have a long way to go.
Should lawmakers enact laws to rein in hate speech online, and, if so, how?
Last year, President Donald J. Trump issued an executive order calling on the Department of Commerce to petition the Federal Communications Commission to use Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act against tech companies. He claimed that social media platforms promoted what many Republicans see as “an anti-conservative bias,” that social media companies allegedly allow to increase. (Section 230, of course, is the 1996 law that allows internet companies to host user content online without liability.) Then, he threatened to veto a critical defense bill because Congress failed to repeal the law.
To what extent will Congress consider even more regulation, and what are the implications for free expression?
It will be interesting to see if Congress seeks new legislation to address internet hate speech at all, with free speech being so central to our democracy and the Constitution. If lawmakers do act, how far will they go? What would be the terms? What would be the remedies or penalties when a platform fails to meet new legal obligations? And what would be the appropriate enforcement mechanisms?
The need to take down hateful online content that perpetuates and normalizes violence — such as the Facebook and Twitter ad campaigns China ran to spread anti-Muslim sentiment and cover its human rights violations against its Uyghur community — has never been more apparent. Then, there is the seemingly nonstop public spectacle, in the U.S., when uniformed men, who are supposed to protect and serve, engage in hate crimes themselves.
Content-based rules will inevitably offend white nationalists who insist they conflict with America’s stated values of freedom and free speech. Individuals and groups make these assertions without regard to the rule of law and even though they contradict their claims.
With no popular consensus to refute and counteract this misinformation — Americans are split on whether platforms do enough to stem the tide of hateful content or whether hate speech is even real — lawmakers cannot reach a bipartisan solution. Democrats tend to believe social media companies aren’t doing enough on their own — that social media harms more than it helps — and that companies should not be able to profit from hate speech. Republicans are more concerned about how Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms treat conservative users and amplify news, without regard to accuracy or its effect on people, racial and ethnic relations, its potential to stoke violence, or its degradation of the national discourse.
Change requires an open discussion that holds tech companies accountable.
Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube have acknowledged the need to reform Section 230. But this doesn’t come from the goodness of their hearts. With thousands of irresponsible Twitter posts throughout his one-term presidency, Mr. Trump laid bare the fragility of our democracy. The United States President used his own hateful words to incite violence, provoke hate groups, and confuse users.
Despite polarization in the American public, many around the world have called for better online content moderation. The American people deserve it. Children should not have to grow up in a society where hate and violence animate the core of the dialogue, rather than being on the fringes, where they belong. Marginalized groups, such as women, people of color, immigrants, religious minorities, and LGBTQ+ shouldn’t have to live in constant fear of being separated from their families, attacked, falsely arrested, or murdered just because something a bully said on the internet threatens their freedom.
Let’s help each other figure this out. Call me: 1-866-482-3898 — let me know what you think. What more information can we provide to help you stay informed about hate speech on the internet? What are some other blind spots when it comes to tech policy and human rights? What else can online media companies do to strike the right balance between hate speech and free speech on social media? 1-866-482-3898.
Last year was tough. But this year could be worse if we assume we’re out of the woods. We’re not.
David Chavern (@NewsCEO) is president and CEO of News Media Alliance, the news industry’s largest trade organization. David joined the Alliance as president and CEO in October 2015. In addition to developing an entirely new brand and identity for the organization, Chavern has been intensely focused on telling the powerful – and optimistic – story of the news industry and offering members new products that help them run their businesses better every day. He has been called an activist for the news industry by a national media columnist: a title that he embraces proudly.
Chavern has built a career spanning 30 years in executive strategic and operational roles, and most recently completed a decade-long tenure at the United States Chamber of Commerce. From 2014 to 2015, he served as the President of the Center for Advanced Technology & Innovation at the Chamber. From 2007 through 2014, Chavern was the Chamber’s Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer. In this role, he was responsible for the day-to-day operations and long-term planning for the 500-person advocacy organization. Chavern managed numerous (and simultaneous) advocacy efforts. He also managed revenue growth and expense reductions and ended the 2013 fiscal year with record financial performance. Prior to that, Chavern served as a Vice President and Chief of Staff at the Chamber, offering strategic advice and guidance to the CEO and managing daily operations of the organization.
Chavern is a member of the Board of Directors of Transamerica Insurance. He is a founding investor in Starling Trust Sciences, LLC, a company that produces data analytics tools that allow companies to measure a wide range of cultural attributes about their internal operations. A proud alum, Chavern also serves on the board of trustees of his alma mater, the University of Pittsburgh.
A 1987 graduate of Villanova University’s School of Law, Chavern went on to receive his MBA from Georgetown University in 2003. He attended the University of Pittsburgh where he received a Bachelor of Arts degree.
David Chavern, Section 230 Is a Government License to Build Rage Machines, Wired, 2020, https://www.wired.com/story/opinion-section-230-is-a-government-license-to-build-rage-machines/ (last visited Jan 4, 2021).