Social media is absolutely essential to life in 2016. The ability to freely express your feelings and opinions to the world is something that the philosophers of the ancient world could only dream of. However, over the past few years, the freedom that we have is threatened. Companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google have begun silencing speech that they deem offensive. Not only are they removing posts and videos, but in some cases, they are even reporting to its users’ governments.
Tensions have been high in Germany since the “Migrant Crisis.” Citizens have been critical of their governments open border policy, and recent spikes in crime and terrorism have not helped the situation. Led by Chancellor Angela Merkel, their government has begun cracking down on social media posts with the assistance of popular social media sites like Facebook.
According to an article from CNBC, Merkel was caught talking to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg after a meeting at the United Nations. According to the article, The Facebook CEO was overheard responding that “we need to do some work” on curtailing anti-immigrant posts about the refugee crisis.
“Are you working on this?” Merkel asked, to which Zuckerberg replied in the affirmative before the transmission was disrupted. Since the meeting, numerous posts from German Facebook accounts regarding the crisis have been removed.
The Washington Post published an article detailing how some German citizens have even been arrested for their posts online. A 26-year-old man in the town of Wismar was arrested, put on probation for five months, and a fine for 300 euros, after posting about the crisis. There are many stories similar to this one.
In Berlin, a 29-year-old woman received probation for five months after an anti-migrant post she made on Facebook. While the posts they made were utterly reprehensible, punishing them is not the answer. All this does is reinforce what they believe that the German government doesn’t care about its citizens. Censorship isn’t only prevalent on Facebook, Twitter has become for infamous for punishing those they feel have inappropriate views.
In July, journalist and provocateur Milo Yiannapoulos was banned from Twitter after insulting actress Leslie Jones over the recent “Ghostbusters” reboot. Yiannapoulos was unjustly credit with inciting a wave of harassment to against Jones; he didn’t start the harassment, however he did pile on. This is entirely hypocritical on Twitter’s part considering Jones has tried to incite hate on Twitter. In July 2016 after getting into an argument with a twitter user known as whitebecky1776, Jones tweeted “b*tch I want to tell you about yourself but I’m gonna let everybody else do it I’m gonna retweet your hate!! Get her!”
Jones also tweeted in August 2014, “Ok…black republicans? (blank stare), isn’t that an oxymoron emphasis on “moron” #needemojitoexpressblankstare #thoughtitwasamyth #unicorn.” For this to be considered acceptable but Yiannapolous’ tweets like “If at first you don’t succeed (because your work is terrible), play the victim. EVERYONE GETS HATE MAIL FFS” points to bias on the bar on the part of Twitter.
YouTube has taken a different to approach to censorship. In an effort to disincentives content creators from making certain types of videos, including videos intended to humiliate someone, videos that are negative towards another person and videos that depict violence, they have changed their terms of service and community guidelines. With guidelines as nebulous as these, there are many videos that will be demonetized and their creators won’t profit from the content the produce. In addition to this, they have also created YouTube Heroes, a select group of users with the power to mass flag videos, demonetize videos and delete video comments at their own discretion. Free expression is under attack around the world, and while it may seem small and isolated now, we are standing on a very steep and slippery slope.
“When you tear out a man’s tongue, you are not proving him a liar, you’re only telling the world that you fear what he might say.” – George R.R. Martin, A Clash of Kings