The Morality of Digital Free Speech

May 31, 2016

12:03 pm

Free speech is one of our essential human rights – we’re allowed to freely express our views in a respectful way without fear of persecution or harsh consequences. Digital free speech is part of what makes social media so attractive to users. However, when some of these ideas go awry, it can be difficult to give users the security they deserve when maneuvering throughout the web.

So, what security measures do users have when free speech turns toxic?

How Digital Companies Are Cracking Down

The solution to finding the middle ground of morality in digital free speech could be found in Europe. It was reported today that the EU allowed for Facebook, Twitter, Google’s YouTube and Microsoft to collectively tackle online hate speech within 24 hours.

This crackdown is important because it’s the first time that many of these digital companies are responding to issues of harassment and rising online violence on a large scale . Though marginalized users find themselves particularly vulnerable to trolling and online harassment, there’s been a rise of this kind of online violence that correlates to the increase of human rights crises over the last few months.

Digital hyper-visibility can be dangerous for users. It’s paramount that tech companies and law enforcement begin to take this violence seriously to ensure that the online spaces are safe for all users.

“As part of the pledge agreed with the European Commission, the web giants will review the majority of valid requests for removal of illegal hate speech in less than 24 hours and remove or disable access to the content if necessary,” as founded in the EU report. “They will also strengthen their cooperation with civil society organizations who help flag hateful content when it goes online and promote ‘counter-narratives’ to hate speech.”

Is Organization Action Necessary?

Some will argue that it may not be fully necessary for these tech companies to get involved in the politics of digital free speech. However, this may be the only way for a more universal solution to make its way to the public.

Though the dangers of hyper-visibility haven’t been as explored amongst digital spaces, it’s important that we begin to see these spaces as real spaces in which violence must be taken seriously. Though the agreement with the EU is only a short-term solution, we can be assured that it’s a step in the right direction to take digital harassment seriously and begin to examine what solutions could rightfully ensure the safety of all users.

Image Credit to Krysten Newby / Flickr.

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Cameron is a tech and culture journalist, comic book enthusiast, and lives near New York City. A graduate of Stockton University, she's using her words to shift the world of online journalism, one byline at a time. When she's not writing, she can be found reading sci-fi novels, collecting succulents, and planning her next obnoxious hair color. Cameron is an editorial fellow at Tech.Co. Send your tips to cameron@tech.co or tweet @BlkGirlManifest.

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