Social media platforms need censorship

Free speech still has consequences

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Illustration of multiple social media app icons in a cage
ILLUSTRATION: Raissa Sourabh / The Peak

By: Olivia Visser, Opinions Editor

Social media companies don’t owe you unmoderated speech. While Elon Musk galvanizes his fanbase into believing content moderation is tyranny, most tech companies have caught onto the fact that no one really wants a platform free from censorship. I’m not really talking about political censorship — I believe people have a right to speech that doesn’t incite violence. But hate speech and harassment makes websites unusable for consumers, and undesirable for advertisers. Platforms that have tried their hand at looser content moderation styles have failed repeatedly, and it seems like Elon Musk is set on bringing Twitter down with them.

We’ve likely all seen Twitter descend into chaos over the past few weeks. After Musk followed through with his deal to purchase the social media platform, there was an “immediate, visible, and measurable spike” in hate speech, according to CBS News. Researchers found that hateful speech targeting people for their identity, like the use of slurs, increased by 4.7 times the day after he became CEO. Nevermind the fact that he bans parody accounts criticizing him, and fires employees who express concerns, Musk has been a vocal proponent of free speech for some time now. Disguising himself as a “free speech absolutist,” he lures bored internet users into an echo chamber of right-wing talking points, one of which being the idea that social media platforms should favour free speech over user satisfaction.

The Verge’s Editor-in-Chief wrote an article titled “Welcome to hell, Elon” that argued most users don’t want to “participate in horrible unmoderated internet spaces full of shitty racists.” Hard to disagree. Nevertheless, free speech absolutists often believe that their words, however depraved, should be free from consequences. Offline, someone would face repercussions if they walked around harassing people for their identities — outcomes ranging from losing friends to job opportunities. These are real-life consequences stemming from actions any rational person would view as unsavoury — not the result of some shadowy “woke mob.” Most companies understandably don’t want to platform this type of behaviour. 

As users flee Twitter in search of a less hostile platform, Elon Musk will either realize censorship is necessary, or go down with his ship. Right-wing media platforms that have attempted to be censorship-free have either failed, or become safe-havens for hate and conspiracies. Social media sites like Gab, Parler, and Truth Social, which branded themselves as conservative safe spaces, were financial failures because they didn’t appeal to anyone besides extremists. These apps were used to coordinate the Capitol riot in the US, before being banned by app stores for refusing to moderate their content. Alex Shephard at The New Republic argued “right-wing shitposters don’t actually need or want a safe space to play together,” and instead “they want to be a part of a battlefield.” 

It seems like Elon Musk is content with Twitter becoming a battlefield. And all for what — some awful hate tweets made from anonymous accounts? Advertisers are quickly cutting their ties to the site for its failure to moderate parody accounts spreading hate and misinformation. Private companies don’t have an obligation to host your hateful conduct. The “terms of service” function of social media platforms is what keeps these sites afloat for users and advertisers alike — if you loosen it too much, it’ll lose its meaning. We’ll see if Musk figures that out.