The concept of “social network” has become firmly established in people’s lives, while the original mission of these online spaces was to provide an opportunity to exchange information, as well as to make the world more open for the relationships of all mankind. Today, the logic of the development of social networks has led to many new fundamental problems, as well as to the deepening of already existing contradictions in society and the political system in particular. One of the cornerstones of the agenda was the concept of freedom of speech, which is key to the democratic order and political processes in every country. The article analyzes the key democratic law and its problematization in connection with the development of social networks. Based on the analysis carried out, the article suggests some ways out of the current impasse.
Currently, most of the content on sites is user generated. The Internet is evolving so that in the future all content will be entirely created by users working based on creative collaboration. The most visited sites on the Internet today are blogs, social networking sites, video hosting sites, and other sites and portals with custom content. This Internet perspective further underscores the ambiguous implications of free speech for both users and society as a whole. At the same time, the increasingly rapid globalization makes this issue significant and problematic at the global level, going beyond the limits of national regulation.
Modern social networks are characterized by ample opportunities for self-realization, and their importance in the life of society is steadily increasing. Increasingly, social networks are replacing both traditional media and traditional communication channels. At the same time, society is faced with a situation where legislation, law enforcement practice in the field of the implementation of human rights and freedoms, and the ability of users to consciously approach the way of using social networks do not keep pace with the development of the Internet. It is not just a matter of legislative regulation of the activities of social networks, but of defining the conceptual attitude of legislators and society to those phenomena that have appeared recently and in connection with which it is necessary to fully ensure human rights and freedoms on the Internet.
Thus, the paper analyzes the contradictory development and consequences of freedom of speech in social networks, as well as the problematization of this right in connection with the emergence of new political actors – IT corporations.
Freedom of Speech Concept
Freedom of speech is one of the most important categories that characterize the features of the democratic order and political process worldwide. Liberalism presupposes a particular focus on civil liberties.
There are many approaches to interpreting the concept of freedom of speech in the socio-political thought. Their diversity and interconnection with various aspects of social practice explain the difficulties that researchers face in trying to generalize and classify existing theories (Gillespie, 2018). Followers of liberal ideology advocate an active role of the state in the economy in the implementation of social projects. At the same time, they are categorically against any government initiatives that restrict human freedoms, including freedom of speech (Gillespie, 2018). Within the framework of liberalism, the manifestation of individual freedom depends on the degree of limitation of state influence on the relations of citizens, on the individual’s ability to dispose of property, to realize his interests.
One of the most important functions of freedom of speech is social control over the actions of the state. Conservatism encourages freedoms, but at the same time seeks to restrict the abuse of freedoms (Gillespie, 2018). With regard to the principles of freedom of speech, one can talk, on the one hand, about clear guarantees for the implementation of this right, on the other hand, about possible restrictions in the interests of society or the state.
However, at present, the rapid development of IT corporations and their growing influence on society shows that the conflict between freedom of speech and the stability of society is moving from the “individual-society” plane to a more multifaceted environment. Social networks are the space where the ambiguous nature of the right to freedom of speech is problematized from new perspectives.
Social Networks Problematizing Freedom of Speech
There have been many cases which exemplify the ambiguous outcomes of exercising the freedom of speech in social networks. However, this paper discusses one of the most recent cases which has had a worldwide impact in terms of discussion. The blocking by social networks of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Youtube of President Donald Trump’s accounts due to the riots in the US Capitol on January 6 revived the debate about the limits of free speech, in particular on the Internet and the role of commercial companies in this matter. After the storming of the US Congress by supporters of President Trump, Twitter blocked his account for life, and Facebook and Instagram – indefinitely (Ganninger, 2021). The leadership of social networks noted that the calls of the current US president for confrontation were “incitement to violence”, which is contrary to the policies and rules of these online platforms (Ganninger, 2021).
The decisions of social networks have sparked new debates about the regulation of freedom of speech, the role of the state and private companies in this. In the United States, the First Amendment of the Constitution protects freedom of speech and press, but it does not define the concept and limits of freedom of speech. However, blocking the ex-president of the United States is problematic, since this is a restriction on freedom of speech, carried out by a corporate decision, and not within the framework of certain laws. A right such as freedom of speech can be violated, but according to the law and within the limits determined by the legislature, and not in accordance with a corporate decision.
The Post-Truth Phenomenon
The development of IT corporations and related online interactions has led to a discussion about how untrustworthy information is viable and uncontrollable in modern society. At the same time, studies show that disinformation spreads much faster than truthful statements (Vosoughi et al., 2018). The new communicative reality leads to the emergence of a new term post-truth since this phenomenon lies at the core of the intersection of the freedom of speech and social media development. As a result, the mechanisms of formation of the network information field began to set the paradigm for manipulating the entire mass consciousness, when freedom of choice and self-expression found itself in a narrow corridor of distorted political reality, beyond which it is not easy to break out (McIntyre, 2018).
Post-truth is a product of the online environment, in which the Internet and social networks have played a key role, adopted by politicians and businesses. The creation of a virtual information environment led to the destruction of the monopoly of traditional media on the formation of public opinion. The broadcast model of mass communication is a thing of the past, giving way to Web 2.0 and 3.0 technologies (Briggs, 2018). The time from the birth of an idea to its perception by a wide audience has radically reduced: in a matter of seconds, information disseminated by an individual can become the property of the world community. In addition to electronic publications, social networks have appeared on the Internet for quite a long time, representing a barrier-free communication environment where any user can act as a journalist and opinion leader.
For new media, de facto, there are no interstate borders and national jurisdictions. From a technical point of view, their moderation by the state is still practically impossible (Alkiviadou, 2019). Ideas circulating freely in the global network reach such a level of pluralism that every socially significant thesis instantly has an equally convincing antithesis. Unlimited freedom of information flow from source to recipient, at first glance, should have contributed to democratization and increased transparency of political processes. In practice, however, it turned out that the gigantic diversity of opinions is not that much different from the information monopoly (Graciyal & Wiswam, 2018).
Filtration and verification of mass media turn out to be an overwhelming task not only for ordinary consumers, but also for representatives of the scientific and expert community (Steppe, 2014). The inability of control and supervisory authorities, courts and special services to put things in order in the virtual space could be considered their purely departmental problem, if “fake news” did not pose a threat to national security.
The paper discusses the full-fledged formation of a new communication reality that has arisen in social networks and is associated with the phenomenon of post-truth. In this reality, the traditional scientific principles of differentiating truth and falsehood give way to pragmatic and axiological approaches, within which truth is understood as what corresponds to the subjective interests and values of political and corporate actors (Jørgensen & Zuleta, 2020).
The main criterion of reliability in this era is the willingness of the masses to believe in the reality of certain events. Against this relativistic background, only legal norms can draw the line between “destructive fakes” and “real news”. Realizing all the philosophical convention of such boundaries, the author perceives their existence as an inevitable attribute of the digital age.
Social media has gained tremendous influence, and there needs to be clear legislation or guidelines for companies to define free speech and what is illegal. The essential question to raise here is as important as it is dangerous for a democratic country: do the extreme right and left political forces have the right to be heard – and who defines the boundaries of what is permissible on social networks? On the one hand, the spread of conspiracy theories, calls for violence and attacks on democratic institutions, and unverified information, potentially leading to harm to health and life, is dangerous. On the other hand, blocking real accounts on social networks is nothing more than an encroachment on freedom of speech, which prevents democratic principles to flourish.
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