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Should social media companies censor hate speech?

Social media provides a powerful platform for global multimedia communication and people naturally use it to voice their opinions. Hate speech is protected by the First Amendment except when it directly provokes a crime or directly threatens violence towards a group or person. As a growing number of hate crimes are linked and perpetuated through social media platforms, including the tragic Christchurch Mosque shooting, “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, NC, and the attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, questions about social media companies’ roles in moderating hate speech is at the forefront. Should social media companies censor hate speech?


Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg Discusses Free Speech With Georgetown Students

Instagram Has A Problem With Hate Speech And Extremism, 'Atlantic' Reporter Says

Additional resources to think about

Does the First Amendment Apply to Social Media Companies? 
Nadine Strossen, professor and former president of ACLU, explains how the First Amendment is not applicable to social media platforms or private sector entities in this short video clip.

In Response to Oversight Board, Trump Suspended for Two Years; Will Only Be Reinstated if Conditions Permit
In this statement from Facebook Vice President of Global Affairs Nick Clegg, he outlines the reason for banning President Donald Trump from the platform following his conduct on the site praising the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.

Hate Speech on Social Media: Global Comparison
The Council on Foreign Relations provides an overview on how social media platforms are correlated with the global rise of hate crimes. This article explores how countries nationwide censor online hate speech through legislation.

As Trump Targets Twitter’s Legal Shield, Experts Have A Warning
Section 230 of the Communication Decency Act guarantees immunity for social media platforms when users post hateful rhetoric. President Trump signed an executive order preventing online censorship after Twitter placed a fact-checking label on two of his tweets. However, this order will not affect the existing Communication Decency Act. This article examines the repercussions of Section 230 if it is eliminated.

Percentage of teenagers in the United States Who Have Encountered Hate Speech on Social Media Platforms as of April 2018, by type.
A bar chart illustrates frequency and types of hate speech teenagers encounter on social media. Approximately 52% of teenagers acknowledge that they often come across racist messages on these platforms.

ADL Pyramid of Hate
The ADL created a pyramid illustrating how biased attitudes can lead to genocide. If behaviors on the lower level of the pyramid are deemed acceptable, it can lead to major consequences.

New York State Senator Introduces “Social Media Hate Speech Accountability Act”
NY State Senator David Carlucci introduced an act that would curb hate speech online, especially on social media sites. This article from The Harvard Journal of Law & Technology outlines what it would mean for tech companies and the public.


Who created this message?

  • What kind of “text” is it?
  • How similar or different is it to others of the same genre?
  • What are the various elements (building blocks) that make up the whole?


What creative techniques are used to attract my attention?

  • What do you notice (about the way the message is constructed)? 
  • What’s the emotional appeal?
  • What makes it seem “real?”
  • What's the emotional appeal? Persuasive devices used?

How might different people understand this message differently from me?

  • How many other interpretations could there be?
  • How could we hear about them?
  • How can you explain the different responses?

What lifestyles, values, and points of view are represented in, or omitted from, this message?

  • What type of person is the reader/watcher/listener invited to identify with?
  • What ideas or perspectives are left out?
  • How would you find what’s missing?
  • What judgments or statements are made about how we treat other people?


Why is this message being sent?

  • What's being sold in this message? What's being told? 
  • Who is served by or  benefits from the message
    – the public?
    – private interests?
    – individuals?
    – institutions?

5 Key Questions of Media Literacy used with permission from the Center for Media Literacy.
Copyright 2002-2021, Center for Media Literacy,


Should social media companies censor hate speech?

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