Twitter – Advocate for Freedom of Speech or a social networking tool craving content regulation?

Can we really control social media? 

Demogr3thics recently held a facilitated discussion with class mates on the topic of unsocial media and Twitter Trolls. This discussion produced many interesting views and ethical issues relating to social media and the problems it faces. 

Twitter is now the biggest social media platform with users reaching the 500 million mark in 2012 and 340 million tweets are being sent per day. It is clear it is an effective channel, which can reach many people at one time.

Does that come at a price though? Has Twitter become a platform where people take ‘Freedom of speech’ too directly and post offensive comments as they think they are protected in the comfort of their own home?

In many cases, these streams of tweets can play key roles in the events of today. Take 2011 for example, Social media networks played a huge role in the London Riots, with mass messages being sent around sites such as Twitter, Facebook and instant messaging BMM, encouraging other members to get involved. For many, these interactions caused contribution from the easily lead members of the public who didn’t even know what they were participating in. This was seen from the news, where interviewers asked rioters why they were partaking and were answered with blank stares and completely misguided reasons.

Although Twitter may not have been the primary reason that these riots continued and gained pace, do you perhaps believe they wouldn’t have been as bad without the encouragement of social media? Should social networks have been more regulated to avoid this in the first place?

Similarly to this, taking the case of the recent murder of Solider Lee Rigby, there was a huge uprising in racist incidents after the attack due to the influence spread on social media.

Tweets of racial intent on Muslims led to racially aggravated assaults and numbers rose to more than half of racist assaults in a year. 11 people were also arrested after making racist or anti-religious comments on Twitter. However, social media was filled with a stream of comments, so questions remain, how did only 11 people get sentenced for their comments?

Or should these tweets have even been allowed to be posted in the first place?

Lastly, I want to take a case where social media has been regulated to the point of irrationality.

Here, I want to bring up the case of an 18 year old gamer, who was jailed over his terrorist threat online. However, it was apparent that the young boy had actually just posted an immature and clearly sarcastic response to someone calling him 'crazy'. The conversation was regarding an online game, which is known to gain toxic comments. 

I'm sure you're wondering what kind of comment could be posted to get an 18 year old boy marched off to prison without even any form of questioning? 

Well according to court evidence the comment stated: "I'm f---ed in the head alright. I think I'ma (sic) shoot up a kindergarten and watch the blood of the innocent rain down and eat the beating heart of one of them." He then followed the claim with "LOL" and "J/K" -- indicating that the comment wasn't of serious intent. 

The teen is now suffering psychological damage whilst also being on suicide watch in prison. Is this a case where Facebook has been over regulated to the point of being ridiculous? What happens to everyone who jokingly argues over the internet? Is our freedom of speech needing to be censored to save a prison arrest or should there be a block on this sort of language being posted? 

What do you think about the social media debate? Does more need to be done to censor our content or do we have a right to post whatever we want on the internet? 

Let me know what you think.


  1. I can see both sides here. Of course, your social networking profile is your own and it is a place where your opinions and views on certain subjects are encouraged. The fact it is your profile means you should be able to write whatever you like and if you are a person of good morals this would never cause you a problem or offence to anyone else. Sometimes because of the 'online' element of social networks and the fact you can easily be 'anonymous' people take their freedom of speech too far. I think the regulation of social networks needs to be improved (despite the anecdote you tell about the 18 year old). Too many people post such threatening comments (or disrespectful eg on a memorial page for someone who has died) thinking they can get away with it. More needs to be done to show these people that even though their threats etc are online, it doesn't mean they are above the law. I think this is partly down to the sites themselves but also the users of the sites, reporting comments which are threatening or could cause offence (eg racist remarks). This is not something which one particular suggesting will solve, but it will involve a lot of different people working together to make sure sites are regulated to an extent where comments which need to be removed, can be done so easily.

    1. Hi Emmalouise, thank you for your comment and your perspective on the issue. I agree it is your own personal page where you should be allowed to share your thoughts and opinions. However, should people still be aware of what they are saying and perhaps put some privacy controls in place if they are making inappropriate comments to stop them being take out of context.
      In regards to your mention of the ability to become an anonymous source online, do you think this may encourage 'trolling' and cyber bullying, so should networks be regulated to the extent where everyone's online presence is set to private to avoid these 'trolls' and protect the safety of vulnerable children?

      I definitely agree that more needs to be done to educate people, to show although they appear to be safe typing hurtful comments at home that they still could be breaking the law or contributing to cyberbullying and they can be traced. It is a problem and one which needs a lot more to be done until it is solved.

  2. Ultimately, everyone is responsible for what they do and say, whether or not it is the internet, and so should not be surprised if they are held accountable for it. Social media platforms should do more to regulate things which are said on the internet, but individual cases should be judged on their individual circumstances, especially taking into account intent to avoid situations such as the one of the 18 year old boy you mentioned.

    1. Hi Lucy, thanks for taking your time to share your views on this issue. Social media has definitely opened up a way for 'twitter trolls' to strike and needs to find a way to regulate this unacceptable form of abuse. I agree that it needs to be based on individual cases (like the 18 year old boy), however, thinking of the time scale of reading each post and deciding if the person is joking or not will be an up hill battle. Let's hope one day they will sort it out for good though!

  3. I think as long as you keep your social media pages set to private then you can not offend anyone. If you then make offensive comments it is within the people you want to see them, who will probably share the same thoughts as yourself.

    Although I think you should probably be careful of what you post online anyway as it will always find a way of reappearing in your present and once it's online, it normally stays there!

  4. Although you may have posted what your friends may also find funny, there is always a line between funny and offensive.

    I agree, what is posted online normally stays online. Take for example the girl who lost her job after comments posted in the past on her Twitter page. We are forever hearing in the news that someone else has been suspended from work or lost their job due to a comment posted on social media.
    Therefore, we should listen to our elders - if you haven't got anything nice to say, don't say anything at all (especially not on social media!).