In 2003, then-Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg created a website called FaceMash, which allowed users to judge a student’s attractiveness using a hot-or-not system. Though Harvard shut down the website after two days due to privacy violations, Zuckerberg’s success with this original idea led to the creation of what we now know as Facebook.
There was an insistence of being transparent on the site: no fake accounts in order to preserve a space to create or maintain authentic relationships. It’s fair to say that Zuckerberg’s original intentions for the network have not played out over the years, the 2016 election interference being a prominent example. It leads to wondering about what we can and should expect from people online and what is acceptable.
In my opinion, Facebook is the most controversial social media platform when it comes to differentiating between protected speech and free speech, especially in a political context. Twitter no longer accepts political advertising of any kind, and YouTube has people working around the clock to take down hateful content.
However, despite Facebook’s claim to prohibit hate speech on the site, it still allows for hate-mongering groups, often political in nature, to spread their message and refuses to shut those pages down because of ‘free speech.’ The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that hate speech is protected under the First Amendment. This was unacceptable before the rise of the internet, and that hasn’t changed, especially on a platform that people all around the world use.
It makes no sense that Zuckerberg would refuse to take any responsibility for the atrocities spewed on his platform. What these users are spreading is unfortunately their authentic reality, but instead of taking the content down and giving these users the opportunity to learn something that will benefit them in the long run, Facebook allows their hate to fester.
Our world is ever-changing, and ultimately, we’ll need to keep up with the times. But as real life begins to spill increasingly into the online realm, we need to think more about the space that our virtual identities occupy and the way that they affect others.
What example does an open toleration for hate speech on social media platforms set for the coming generations that will experience childhood and adolescence with social media — not as something that developed in their lifetime but just as part of life? Does it set the precedent for today’s kids to grow up to become intolerant and divided at a time when we need unity more than anything else? As our world is becoming more interconnected, it will undoubtedly become more difficult to come to a complete consensus on any one topic, but I think the most important thing we can do to temper this is to be kind to one another.
Like I’ve mentioned, an online presence never encapsulates the whole story. No matter the difference in opinion or life circumstance, the one thing everyone wants is to feel accepted. If we change the culture online to a positive one, that’s a step toward progress. How do we do that? Well, that’s on us to figure out.
Thank you, Tufts.