The limits of freedom of speech on social media.

Free speech is considered as the most fundamental right since it is the basic permise on which rely the respect of all other liberties. Without free speech, there is no democratic debate. Free speech is an essential condition to political participation and citizen’s capacity to defend their rights. However, the limits of freedom of expression remains warmly discussed. Where does stop freedom to say and freedom to show ?

Nowadays, internet became an extraordinary space of ‘democratic expression’ for it is ‘free’, open and accessible to (almost) everyone. The web can produce what is best but also what is worst. Capable or arousing or supporting massive social movements, it also became a place where information crosses disinformation, maintained in a kind of maintained fuzziness in order to manipulate the public opinion. What changes have to be done in order not to let the media making their own decisions on what can or cannot be said ?

Internet offers this new opportunity for interaction among people across the globe. It allows exchange of ideas, images and work which is unprecedented in human history and correspond to a genuine democratization to our world’s access.

However, these last months have enlightened that this tool that constitute the internet can also be self-defeating by being misused for anti-democratic purpose.Indeed, anyone can, if the manipulation of those communication tools (Facebook, Twitter, Youtube) is well know, create the buzz on internet, even when this ‘buzz’ is based on worn out misconception or wrong, racial, xenophobic informations.

For instance, “Facebook’s algorithm doesn’t take into account whether a particular story is accurate or not. If it generates a lot of “engagement,” it gets moved to the top of the pile”(Thimoty B. Lee, 2016).

We are living with the idea that social media must absolutely respect our liberty of expression and our right to give our opinion. However, social media are private and non governmental entities and as such, they have their owns rules and regulations.

Official elected, activists, advertisers, militants and ordinary citizens have indeed understood that the stakes are high: the web, social media in particular, is a tool with the capacity to deeply impact spirits, manipulate public opinion, stimulate behaviors within society. This tool can influence a voter since “Two ­thirds of Facebook’s 1.6 billion users say they use the site to get news” (Rosen 2016).

Indeed, A lot of informations (memes, videos, images) appearing on your news feed are being promoted by political parties.

The Jihadist movement for example, could also take advantage of lack of law and regulations on social media to giver their own version of he news and spread false and misleading informations.

Plus, according to BuzzFeed, “The best way to generate shares on Facebook is to publish sensationalist and often false content that caters to Trump supporters.”

The readers of these conspiration stories, in their desire not to be tricked by the media diktat, become then, against their will, victim of deceitful propaganda and accomplice despite their good faith by re-sharing or retweeting face informations. Social media realized that it was possible to give users a way to get around the algorithm and take advantage of it. Facebook has lower the visibility of post in the users flow, forcing the companies to pay in order to ben the algorithm rules and ensure a better visibility of their contents.

Not only Facebook’s process an algorithm that choose what you can or cannot see but Facebook can also decide to use more radial moves such as censure. Indeed, Facebook “is censoring the internet every day, warping your understanding of the world around you to benefit its corporate interests, and fundamentally changing the media landscape in a potentially apocalyptic fashion” (Hern, 2016).

For the web to be an instrument liberty and not manipulation, users need to develop critical and analytical skills when seeking for information over the internet.

One need to know how to take control over the information; we need to be the only decision makers about what can be true or not, this cannot be delegated to others. We also need to remember that it is fundamental to keep an eye on the sources of the information delivered. Who is speaking to us and for what purpose? Another way to struggle against these concerns is by being transparent and honest about the whole algorithm concept ; why did Facebook’s algorithm chose one particular post over the other?

Instead of being rate by popularity and sponsoring the post should be rate by accuracy.

Finally, Facebook could also provide its users with an “opt-out option” (Rosen 2016). Most users would likely appreciate having Facebook seer them toward high-quality articles. They could be the only decision maker about the accuracy and validity of the information delivered.


Jeffrey Rosen (2016) The Deciders: The Future of Free Speech in 2007

a Digital World: 2016 Richard S. Salant Lecture on Freedom of the Press

Timothy B. Lee (2016) Facebook is harming our democracy, and Mark Zuckerberg needs to do something about it

Alex Hern (2016) Angry about Facebook censorship? Wait until you hear about the news feed, retrieved from

The limits of freedom of speech on social media. was originally published in JSC 419 Class blog on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.
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