Category Archives: Social Media

Pushing the limits of free speech on social media

social media bullhorn

Social media: your own personal bullhorn. How you wield it is up to you. Image courtesy of pedrojperez, Morguefile.

We can say what we want on social media. Or can we?

I love social media because it offers limitless opportunities for education, entertainment and professional development. I’m currently following #DMXDublin (an Irish digital marketing conference) on Twitter and I’m having a great time snagging handy information. (I didn’t even get the jet lag — whoo hoo! Although I’d love to attend this conference. *sighs wistfully*)

I’ve seen social media used in all sorts of ways. For some people, it’s a wailing wall or a place to celebrate a milestone event such as an anniversary or a graduation. Social media’s a place to show off the unusual, the amazing or the embarrassing. And then your pratfall is visible, globally.

It’s a place where you are wise to censor what you say at times. Social media’s gotten people fired or fined for their lack of judgment. It shines a light on the bigotry or careless behavior of others, and they have a hard time recovering afterward.

It saddens me when people use social media to ridicule others (as in cyberbullying) or to promote fear through threats. Why waste life’s precious time pumping out these messages when there are so many other constructive things you could be doing?

Sites like LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook have gotten so large that it’s not easy for them to police all of their users. Twitter, however, is cracking down harder on behavior that violates its Terms of Service, and I hope that other sites won’t be too far behind.

It’s always a fine line knowing what to say on social media and what to keep to yourself. The exact wording matters so that your words don’t get taken out of context. There are some industries such as banking, law and health where social media community managers have to be hyperaware of what they say and how they respond, in order to avoid getting into legal trouble.

It seems like the boundaries of free speech on social media get pushed farther and farther each day. It reminds me of the classic example of someone yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater and people getting hurt as they flee out.  If someone did the equivalent of that action in social media and injuries resulted, would we go after the person that created the alarm in the first place? Would we prosecute him or her for accidentally or purposefully spreading a rumor? We’d have to sit in judgment of context and motive, and we’d consider local laws.

There have been some legal challenges concerning social media privacy and freedom of speech. I’ve been following these cases to see how they turn out, since they have some interesting implications for the rest of us.

Readers: What are your thoughts on the future of free speech in social media? Let’s talk.

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