The advent of technology has brought about remarkable change, innovation and knowledge. We now have access to whatever information we may need at the drop of a hat, bringing the world closer together in a way that would have previously been unfathomable. But as our society continues to drift into more and more of a digital existence, I found myself wondering this week if our laws have been able to keep up with our rapidly evolving culture.
Not all progress is met with positive implications. Cyber-bullying has led to an increase in psychological disorders among adolescent youth and hateful and divisive rhetoric has only continued to divide an already polarized country (Kowalski, 2012). The question then becomes this: Where do we draw the line between protecting freedom of speech and protecting our citizens’ from irrevocable harm?
After seeing a comment last week written by an anonymous, middle-aged man threatening individual women on Facebook, I decided to report his comment to Facebook in order to see what would happen next. Roughly two hours later, Facebook sent me a message back telling me that his comment had not violated any of their standards for harassment or discrimination and that if I wanted to, I was free to block him. This reaction from Facebook was unsurprising to me and only reinforced the idea that there is a lack of regulation on public forums.
The issue of freedom of speech becomes a very slippery slope. People should be able to speak without fear of retribution but the question always has been; where do we draw the line? The FBI recently said that technological advances in connection with freedom of speech laws have made it more difficult than ever to combat cyber terrorism. How do we protect our citizens’ most precious right while simultaneously protecting our citizens’ from potential harm?
There is no way that we will ever be able to completely eradicate hatefulness or bigotry, but I believe there are steps that need to be taken to ensure that the same laws and rules that exist in the real world exist in the cyber world as well. People should be free to post what they want on their own, private wall, however public posts should be regulated in the same way that they would in real life. Threatening behavior or language should be met with removal from the site all-together. As consumers, it is our responsibility to advocate to Facebook to set up sensible regulations surrounding their website in order to promote an environment free from dangerous or threatening behavior.
After emailing Facebook directly, I am anxiously awaiting their response on what can be done to fix this type of issue. Once they respond, I am hoping to touch base with someone who can discuss with me changes that can be made to protect potentially vulnerable people on their website. I am hoping that we as Social Workers will never become complacent and will continue to advocate for what is right despite how “normal” it seems to have become.
Please read more below on Social Work and freedom of speech:
Kowalski, R. (2012). Cyberbulling: Bullying in the Digital Age. UK: Blackwell Publishing.