Smoke and Mirrors: The Current State of “Freedom” on the Internet
Co-Founder, Chief Commercial Officer
Social media platforms have revolutionized our interaction between traditional social, political and geographical divisions. Where earlier gatekeepers have mitigated and mediated access to mass media outlets, today theoretically everyone (and any content) can immediately touch billions of people. This growth provides tremendous opportunities to democratize public expression and diversify public discourse. But where does freedom of speech fit into this?
Regulators across Europe and the United States are weighing responses to the legal novelties and challenges that social media represents, seeking to advance and frame the debate on core issues. Will these provisions cover a wider spectrum to allow for more freedom of speech online? Or, will they increase offensive, abusive, even discriminatory content instead? More importantly, how can human rights laws be upheld and implemented in an online world that is dominated by power players like Facebook and Twitter?
As we all know, some countries do not even have basic human rights like freedom of speech. Their citizens are given an illusion that they have freedom, but in reality they are heavily censored and filtered by the government. Barriers to freedom of speech are common and vary drastically between Asian countries. For example, government bodies in Burma, Vietnam, and Cambodia are constantly censoring its citizens that write what they deem to be inflammatory editorial or opinion pieces. In Thailand, Lèse Majesté (insulting royalty) results in three to fifteen years of imprisonment. Singapore and Malaysia’s libel and internal security laws put a hard stop on many types of internet content. In the Philippines, journalists have been executed en masse for reporting negative news about their government administration. In recent years in Myanmar the freedom of expression has strengthened, but there are still major challenges. And the list goes on. There is no clear correlation between legal and constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech and actual practices among Asian nations.
It is common knowledge that America sets an example to the world on how freedom of speech should be handled, but do we really? Americans live an illusion, where they think they have complete freedom of speech, but they don’t. The US government has been accused multiple times for blocking or removing critical comments online. Much of the censorship on social media does not emanate directly from the government. Often, the censorship comes from social media companies that police content pursuant to their own terms-of-service agreements. Even I and perhaps some of you can relate to this issue where comments were deleted by Facebook just because we expressed opinions which were not liked by the corporate world.
The central role of social media in public life has only become stronger over time. Politicians use Twitter to connect with voters directly and spend billions on targeted ads on Facebook. In the meantime, YouTube has given its voice to a new generation of political and social commentators and now attract audience numbers mainstream media can only dream of. Twitter, Facebook and YouTube are commercial operations with obligations to maximize returns to their investors. In all three cases the business model is the timeless strategy of charging for access to their audience, which means they rely on advertisers for their revenue. This ends up with conflicts of interest with the users and the advertisers. For instance, when brands dissociate with public figures that bring out far right or left ideologies in fear of losing paid sponsors, some users get upset. These users end up pressuring the social media companies by cutting off funds, which in turn forces the social media companies to ban users that cause problems with advertisers. At the end it all comes down to greed from these mega social media companies – to them, violating human rights is okay if that means they can turn billions in profit.
We talked about how the government in most countries and social media companies are violating our basic human rights, contradicting their own laws by lying to us. While this is totally unacceptable, it’s up to us, the common folks, to protect ourselves and exercise our freedom. One of our goals here at Lok is to provide an unbiased platform with no censorship to our users. Data stored in our database is encrypted end-to-end between users, so it’s completely impossible for us to censor your data, allowing you total freedom of speech and expression.
Having reached the end of this blog, we most certainly hope to have you convinced of the great importance of this topic in our contemporary society, and to have provided a certain introduction to the current situations and minds regarding the freedom of expression in the social media spectrum.
Protect your independent opinions and the opinions of those closest to you. Secure your voice with Lok.