Tag Archives: echo chamber

Should Social Media Censor Hate Speech In A Free Society?

Twitter’s censuring, if not censoring, President Trump’s controversial tweet threatening to use force to quell riots protesting the death of George Floyd, and  Facebook, refusing to follow the lead of its rival social network,  has reignited the controversy  leading many Facebook employees to stage a walk out and some to even quit their coveted jobs in protest.

But can social media companies censor hate speech while also providing an unbiased platform for free speech that they claim to provide?

Some conservatives argue social networking companies support free speech only when the speech aligns with the political views of the company.

Richard Hania, found that of the 22 notable accounts suspended by Twitter, 21 accounts had supported President Trump and only one of those accounts had supported Hillary Clinton in the 2016 elections.

Candace Owens, a journalist, retweeted the racist tweets of Sarah Jeong, an editor at theNew York Times,  but substituted the word “white” for “black” and “Jews”. Owens had her account suspended, while Jeong wasn’t even reprimanded, suggesting that different social groups have different standards for hate speech.

Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, at a meeting with lawmakers admitted that his company’s censoring a video of Live Action, a pro life advocacy group, was biased, but argued that there was no widespread bias in moderating content.  Jack Dorsey, the Twitter CEO also argued that although the company’s employees are very left leaning, it has no influence on content moderation.

A couple of studies, including an internal audit conducted by Facebook, concur with the CEOs and have found no signs of systemic bias against conservatives.

 Whether or not hate speech censorship is biased,  it would be imprudent to be oblivious that the subjectivity of what constitutes hate speech leaves open the possibility of viewpoint discrimination and arbitrary censorship.

If a group claiming itself to be  a religious cult engages in organized,  indisputably repugnant behavior like child abuse, should the group be more  protected from criticism — as criticism of religion is typically considered hate speech —  than any other group which engages in a similar behavior but has no religious affiliation?

Did  Erika Christakis, a lecturer at Yale University who was forced to resign for speaking out against censoring Halloween costumes cross the line cross the line between free speech and hate speech?

I don’t condone the harms of hate speech.   Hate speech has no place in a civilized society, and social media companies are certainly noble in their intentions to provide every netizen a dignified cyberlife.

It is imperative that we reflect as a society on the causes of hate speech and how to address its root cause.

But attempting to censor hate speech is a slippery slope that could eventually make social media forums that have come to be hotspots of free speech and debate, into echo chambers fueled by the hegemony of popular views.

Ashwin Murthy is a software engineer at LinkedIn and a and a software engineer at a social networking company.


Image Credit: John Tyson, Unsplash

Photo by Bermix Studio on Unsplash

A Bilingual Summer!

Yet Another Op-Ed in the Echo Chamber. Anyone Listening?

November 9th: True confession: I climbed out of the echo chamber that I had been living in. You know how things were before the election – I talked to other liberals who were and still are friends and neighbors; we had extended each other’s arguments and thoughts, patted ourselves on the back when one of us articulated an idea that helped distill the thoughts that we on our own struggled to articulate.

On the night of the election, I could not sleep. I sat into the wee hours of the morning feeling stunned, defeated. And, in the dark night, as the results sank in, I wrote this piece – “Why I will listen to Rush Limbaugh.” And, I followed through on what I had committed to do. The time spent reading newspapers and magazines consumed my waking hours. I read Breitbart, Red State, watched Fox News and listened to Rush Limbaugh as I said I would.

I felt scared about the future. I didn’t know what to expect. And, then, events started unfolding too many to name here. Trump’s selection of leaders to run federal agencies who were determined to dismantle them. Remember Rick Perry and the Department of Energy? Then, came the health care debacle, where he completely disregarded concerns about not thousands but millions of people losing health care coverage. Then, came the insults thrown at North Korea’s leader – the “locked and loaded” phrase that made a chilling impact. I started thinking of the families of thousands of service members who could be in harm’s way if there was war declared at moment’s notice.

But, all of the fear I felt earlier paled into oblivion when I saw the march in Charlottesville. When I saw young men, not older white men, but young men in their twenties some who were even in their teens march spewing hate, my heart started thudding frantically.

I could not recognize America. I could not even cry. Hell, I could not even recognize what it was to be human at that point.

And, I still can’t.

I felt as the editor of India Currents, a magazine that serves a minority readership, I should be saying something. Something to condemn this atrocity. And, so, I sat in front of my computer. No words came. Through the most personal of tragedies or the headiest of triumphs, I’ve always managed to write. Something. Anything. But, there were no words on the page.

Then, I said – let me listen to what others are saying. I listened to the recriminations pour in – rebukes, stern statements, Fox News hosts crying on live TV, and finally Republican senators standing up for what is purely human decency. And, I heard this statement most often – “We need to come together as a nation.”

I sit here thinking – How? I really don’t see any light at the end of this tunnel. Racism, bigotry and pure hatred are out in the open and you cannot put this genie back into the bottle. We have moved back several decades, heck, we’ve moved back a hundred years or more actually.

I write this with a sense of hopelessness and defeat – my words will be resounding in yet another echo chamber.

We were far apart before the election; we’ve moved so far apart now that I don’t see how we can meet.