Suppressing ‘Hate Speech’ on Social Media Drives Users to New Platforms
With German-style Internet controls catching on around the world and social media platforms increasingly targeting “fake news” and allegedly (or explicitly) hateful views, researchers have wondered just how those on the receiving end are responding to newly trendy censorship. What they’ve found should surprise nobody: that people find ways to express themselves. Whatever the quality of disfavored speech, it’s continuing to be expressed through back channels and on new platforms that proliferate to meet demand.
Interestingly, not only are we seeing that the big social media companies are anything but monopolies, but the more they act like they can control what people say, the more competition they encourage.
“Moderation of hateful or radical content on social media has been a central point of discussion in the recent years,” Ofra Klein of the European University Institute’s Department of Political and Social Sciences wrote earlier this month in a piece citing research on the effects of censoring Internet speech. “Yet, much remains unknown about the decisions of platforms on how content is moderated and what the consequences are for mobilization on the radical right.”
Indeed, such “moderation” became a headline-grabbing topic in 2020. Under pressure from a growing number of governments as well as from corporate advertisers, social media companies have restricted “hate speech” as well as “fake news” and other varieties of forbidden expression that can vary in detail from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.
Inevitably, while social media companies have the right to apply any or no restrictions to their own services, descriptors like “fake” and “hateful” are open to debate. Klein observes that child pornography and terrorist beheadings are easy to identify, but “when it comes to the moderation practices of removing hateful tweets or radical right pages, it is often more opaque why certain content is removed.” That can be especially galling to many when moderation seems directed at speech that large numbers of people consider acceptable.
That leaves lots of folks looking for alternative communications channels. And they’re finding them.
“Censorship leads to various responses on the rad
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