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Fighting hate speech as an excuse for censorship

Legal action and internal policy changes on the social media should be undertaken in order to tackle the problem of hate speech online.

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The Internet and social media, in particular, have pushed the freedom of speech ahead in a significant, never before seen the way. The information flow and exchange have become massive and very frequent, and nowadays anybody can share their opinion, vision, and solution to any issue that they encounter online.

Unfortunately, freedom of speech also means the freedom to share one’s hatred, spitefulness and immoral views. Thus, hate speech and cyberbullying are the hot topics of today’s information security and a sticky issue that the social media owners need to deal with.

Why fighting hate speech is important

Cyber bullying and hate posts have been an issue for some time now. Facebook and Twitter are often places where you can read all sorts of abusive and negative things, be attacked verbally and with the means of images. This kind of content can be created intentionally, or simply by people who have self-control problems. Not so long ago, an Italian bullying victim Tiziana Cantone committed suicide, because an intimate video of her has gone viral on the social media, and there were no laws to stop it from spreading. Another example is the latest presidential election campaign in the US that has had a huge social media impact. A lot of hate speech was spread on the web, and it is not known to which extent it had influenced the outcome of the presidential elections. After these allegations, the social media like Facebook and Twitter promised to adopt more definitive measures to fight hate speech online.

Of course, some of the attempts had already been made before. Twitter, for instance, has had a practice of suspending accounts of some groups of people who shared a white supremacist and Neo-nazi messages. Both platforms have “report abuse” buttons, which users can use to report abusive of hateful content. However, these are not enough to prevent hate speech from spreading on a massive scale, and both scientists and some activist groups are calling for more drastic action.

A line between freedom and abuse

But can we really do more than that? Whatever measures will be taken by Facebook and Twitter in order to prevent hate speech online will certainly include administering the content. In other words, we are talking about censorship. It is very hard to determine the parameters according to which content will be considered abusive or hateful. These measures could lead to abuse of the right to regulate content.

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Luckily, alternative options have been suggested by Twitter, the platform that “hosts” the most abusive content given the relative ease of posting and no need to maintain a viable profile. The idea on offer is very much like user ratings. Users will be able to rate each other in terms of credibility, and only see the tweets or posts from people they hold credible. This system is similar to how Google filters websites it trusts: the more the websites is cited, or the links to it are posted on other websites, the more credible this website is. Thus, it goes up in the search engines results.

Overall, legal action and internal policy changes on the social media should be undertaken in order to tackle the problem of hate speech online. Not to mention that educational measures are also an effective way of hate speech prevention.

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