Should social media platforms censor hate speech?
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Should social media companies censor hate speech on their platforms? Nadine Strossen, law professor and former president of the ACLU, says that while tech giants have no legal obligation to respect First Amendment rights, she urges them to allow as much free speech as is feasible.
Those who advocate censorship on social media worry about the harm caused by hate or disinformation, but they never examine whether censorship is going to be effective in actually addressing the root issue, says Strossen.
Online or offline, censorship doesn’t work to make the world better. “Every hate speech law around the world to this day is disproportionately enforced consistently against the very minority groups who are hoped to be protected,” says Strossen.
This video was made possible thanks to Big Think’s partnership with the Institute for Humane Studies.
Nadine Strossen is the John Marshall Harlan II Professor of Law at New York Law School. From 1991 through 2008, she served as President of the American Civil Liberties Union, the first woman to head the nation’s largest and oldest civil liberties organization. Her most recent book is HATE: Why We Should Resist It With Free Speech, Not Censorship. You check it at
NADINE STROSSEN: Social media platforms present the same issues that we have been grappling with with respect to older media. But throughout human history every time a new medium of communication comes along many people, including many government officials, become very exercised about the new power and the allegedly new harms that are posed. So, we went through this when radio was invented, when the telephone was invented, when television was invented, when the World Wide Web came to people’s attention. And, in fact, I have read that when the printing press was invented and when papyrus was invented there were similar eruptions of fear about this great new power to distribute information and the harm that could be done through information and disinformation. So, I think it’s really important for us to have historic humility and not see what we’re going through now as inherently different and more dangerous than the past. And I think that the same fundamental principles that have applied to other media should apply to social media as well.
First of all, as private sector entities, social media companies have absolutely no legal obligation to respect First Amendment rights, free speech rights, for anybody else. So, just as I have no right to participate in your wonderful film and I have no right to have an op-ed in The New York Times, I have no right to have my post displayed on Facebook or Twitter and so forth. Moreover, those companies have their own First Amendment rights to make their own editorial decisions about what expression they are going to allow on their platform and what they’re not going to allow. I, as somebody who defends free speech rights for media companies, along with other companies, would oppose government restriction on the ability of these companies to decide what they will air and what they will not air. However, I will raise my voice to urge these companies to adhere, as closely as feasible, to the same basic standards that are reflected in the First Amendment. Because I think that for all of the potential damage that can be done by various kinds of online communications, including disinformation and so-called fake news and political ads and so forth, that far more harm is done when we empower these largely unaccountable private sector really powerful entities to pick and choose what expression is going to be aired and what will not be aired. And that danger is especially great when we are talking about political speech. The supreme court has consistently said, throughout history, of all expression that is important in our system of government by far the most important is speech about public affairs, speech about politics. “”We, the people,”” to quote the opening words of our constitution, we wield sovereign power but how can we do that responsibly or effectively if we do not have access, full access, to information about those who are running for office? Those who are seeking our votes? Those who are making…
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