Is Freedom of Tweet a Right or a Wrong?

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Twitter and Facebook are under fire for the role each platform plays in unknowingly tolerating flagrant hate-fueled, public-facing obscenity and outright threats.  Twitter was targeted as the result of  an advocate for honoring women on British currency was deluged with sickening rape threats. Facebook too has been criticized for its molasses-like pace for contending with hate posts and groups. In the case of Twitter, its UK branch reaffirmed its position against hate by publishing a post that acknowledged complaints and also introduced new mechanisms for flagging offending posts.

When my friend Doug Gross at CNN reached out for comment on whether or not Twitter, Facebook and social networks as a whole were doing enough to protect users, I had to speak up. With such a charged and important topic, I couldn’t however speak in traditional media-friendly sound bites. Here’s what I had to say…

Expressed hate and abuse is unfortunately part of our society and it is now also part of our real-time digital culture. As we live the digital lifestyle, our expectations are such that any menace should not only be dealt with accordingly, it should be done immediately. Twitter represents a new medium that the world hasn’t seen before. To protect its users, it must invest in automated and manual safety and reporting mechanisms as it grows. Believe it or not, the company is also ensuring the overall operation of its platform supporting 400 million Tweets per day.

At the same time, as users, we have a responsibility to learn what a Tweet actually means and the effect it can have to its recipients, their community, your community and on society as a whole. If we intend malice we therefore seal our fate in how others perceive us and our actions as well as how we are ultimately judged. The idea of “freedom of Tweet” does not supersede law. And in some cases, the law grants us freedom of Tweet. With social media comes great responsibility. Expression aimed at hurting or threatening someone is indeed a threat heard around the world.

Could Twitter do more?

Of course. Removing abusive Tweets, listening to users on both sides of each event, and working with enforcement officials will help curb this negative behavior, or at least provide a system for recognized consequences. It will not eliminate “hate” altogether as that is a regrettable function of our society. And, Twitter itself is its own digital society. As such, protection and a form of empowered “neighborhood watch”groups will be necessary to protect and serve Twitter’s denizens.

What are your thoughts? What else should Twitter, Facebook and the like (and you and me) do to improve the egosystem?

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  • Barry Mc Lernon

    It will continue to happen whether or not social media sites have stricter rules and regulations, criminal threats should be reported and possible arrests made! As long as there is social media there will continue to be this ‘bullying’ type who hide behind their keyboards, nothing can be done without changing the freedom of twitter that makes it so popular! Someone must be made an example of due to the sickening rape threats, its a criminal threat, it should be treated that way!

  • http://www.mediabadger.com/blog Webconomist

    Happy to provide some case studies (email me: giles_at_mediabadger.com) as in our studies (www.mediabadger.com) we used Susan Benesch’s “Hate Speech Index” from World Policy Institute as the baseline and have done studies on Kenya social media use in 2007 & 2013 elections, Cote D’Ivoire and UK and instances of teen bullying in USA/Canada…out of all those, we have yet to find a direct correlation between the act of hate speech and resultant violence…that doesn’t mean it’s not happening and I (we) firmly believe it is terrible. Perhaps we need to re-define how hate speech translates to real-world actions? I’m sure it does…but how to define/measure it?

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  • Chris Wright

    Let’s not shoot the messenger – the chosen medium of expressing hate is not at fault. If morons chose to send hate mail via letter or carrier pigeon would we hold the mailman or the poor innocent pigeon culpable for the message they unwittingly conveyed?

  • Steve Freeman

    This is an important topic because of freedom of speech. I am torn between defending everyone’s right to express themselves and repulsed by what some have to say.
    Like negative political campaign ads those negative and hater comments get the press, and get shared. We’re shocked and like the dictum used by news organizations say “if it bleeds, it leads”.
    Here’s the real question in my mind, do social media platforms have the right to not publish content of any kind? It’s seems that they do, they are after all for profit organizations. That being said they should be able to not only ban the offender but also ban the ip address used (to keep the offender from opening accounts using an alias)

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  • Jennifer Showe

    A really interesting topic. With social media platforms bridging a global community, the policies enforced by these platforms produces a framework for how international communities interact…but what sort of governance is driving the creation of these policies? The drivers behind commercial enterprise have historically been misaligned with more humanitarian goals. Who should set the agenda for protecting global speech?

  • John Balla

    Great thoughts here, Brian. I think social media platforms do have a responsibility to provide recourse to its users for curbing malice and hate. I agree that hate is an unfortunate part of all societies, and at times it may have seemed that Facebook or Twitter’s responses have been glacial. But I also believe that there’s value in the free-for-all aspects of social media that lets the haters show themselves for what they are. Malice and hate on social media to most people is ugly and disturbing, but it also serves to remind us that hate is out there and it enables everyone to recognize it for what it is.
    I just returned from a family vacation in Europe where we visited the Terror Museum in Budapest – a disturbing but very worthwhile experience for my teenaged kids to see their aunt & uncles’ reactions when reminded of the Soviet occupation nightmare that only ended in 1990. Part of the exhibit included a hall of perpetrators that names the “victimizers” by name, city and picture and it was surprising to see how many of the people that staffed the Hungarian Secret Police during the communist era are still alive today (presumably not incarcerated).
    Seeing the stark reminders of the dark sides of humanity sparked a dialogue in my family where we all concluded that it’s each individual’s responsibility to avoid being hateful, and to avoid being silent or passive when faced with discrimination, hatred or injustice of any kind. So, as it pertains to hatred and malice on Twitter and Facebook – I think that letting some of it hang out there “like a fart in church” is necessary and productive no matter how much it stinks, but the pastor should be ready to turn the fan on when needed.

  • susancellura

    I’m just at a loss as to when bullying became acceptable. And, it’s interesting to note that sometimes a brand (personal or business) reacts to negativity, which might make up just one or two percent of their actual entire audience (or not even their target audience).

  • consciouspi

    YET, TWITTER REFUSES TO ALLOW THIS MESSAGE TO BE TWEETED TO SOMEONE I DO NOT ALREADY KNOW.
    the
    United States does not have a real press corp at all anymore. No one
    watching our politicians; only minding them. Living wages affords
    extras = healthy
    business = healthy money markets = permanent surplus. Spray hose up.
    Government deficits proves low wages are paid, or there would not be
    deficits ever, at all. A
    mean king who has a gold pit the size of Asia, but pays low wages, will
    still have a terrible economy, yet he will be able to pay his bills.
    Big business that makes good money overseas, is similar. Only raising
    incomes will cure this economy. A real gov. stimulus helps business
    pay affording incomes, — includes getting costs off of people. We
    never have had 100%
    spender ability; profits will be profound when we do. …Raising
    interest rates to stop a housing bubble; nonsense. Causes stagflation,
    — peculiar inflationary trends. Rate of return is interest rates
    only. Must stay at same low fair rate. They always make it easier to
    get a loan in a bad economy, or the housing market will have no
    spenders. They are supposed to give loans out only to those who can
    afford actually, and only at appraisal value that is actually real.
    …The communists never paid living wages; Franklin Roosevelt did; and
    this is only why we ever had a decent economy reasonably so, ever.
    …as we note moral people do believe average
    IQ people for instance, do deserve to afford to eat out on what they
    make also. edythe marcellan Facts are facts only. you don’t have a
    right to pretend, nor do I.

  • Mayoor

    Social Media made so great impact in our world today.

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  • CrosbyTee

    Anyone remember when the Net was a wild and wooly place where innovators and early adopters engaged in stimulating debates? It seems like a thousand years ago, doesn’t it? Now the Net is into the “Let’s Make it Safe for Soccer Moms and Grandparents” phase.

    • http://www.briansolis.com/ briansolis

      So true…real life seems to be similar. :)

  • Cate Ferguson

    It’s a good question… especially the ‘what can you or I do’ to improve the egosystem?
    Personally, I call those I know on their bad behaviour. Tell them what they may unwittingly be doing (many people live most of their lives asleep to many things) and that because I know that they are good people, they may want to reconsider. Usually this puts a stop to hateful banter on the thread. If I try this with people I don’t know, it sometimes turns into a plot to murder me because I am … whatever. I unfriend these people. I know that only helps me and those who read my stuff but it’s what I can do.

    Thank you so much Brian it’s a pleasure to have discovered you at last.

  • Sheetal Sharma

    Very rightly mentioned, social media is a platform to express both positive and negative emotions, hate groups, posts, tweets are very common. I think there can be a inbuilt system within Facebook and twitter which allows the unwanted and abusive posting to get automatically deleted or remains invisible on the portal.

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ABOUT ME

Brian Solis is a digital analyst, anthropologist, and also a futurist. In his work at Altimeter Group, Solis studies the effects of disruptive technology on business and society. He is an avid keynote speaker and award-winning author who is globally recognized as one of the most prominent thought leaders in digital transformation.

His most recent book, What's the Future of Business: Changing the Way Businesses Create Experiences (WTF), explores the landscape of connected consumerism and how business and customer relationships unfold in four distinct moments of truth. His previous book, The End of Business as Usual, explores the emergence of Generation-C, a new generation of customers and employees and how businesses must adapt to reach them. In 2009, Solis released Engage, which is regarded as the industry reference guide for businesses to market, sell and service in the social web.

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