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Online Speech Rules Restrict Users

The concept of free speech is omnipresent in American life. As a right enshrined in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, Americans are free to share their opinions, ideas, and beliefs in public. However, as communication moves from traditional spheres of public expression to online platforms, corporations are controlling the content posted by users. Since participation in online communities is considered to be a private voluntary experience, executives at large internet companies like Facebook often exercise more control than the government when it comes to speech. Companies have crafted policies, like a workplace code, to control what users may post.

FacebookThe Limits of Private Speech

While some companies, like Twitter, try to foster a community of free speech and expression, other companies have crafted policies governing what uses may post or say online. Facebook is a good example of this model. While the first amendment protects content that can be considered offensive, Facebook has taken a hard line on some forms of offensive speech including pornography and hate speech. Users creating a Facebook profile agree to be policed by Facebook employees and other users. Users who don’t conform to community standards can expect to have content removed. Some unacceptable content may not explicitly violate the terms of use. In these circumstances, Facebook also takes advantage of the real life social contacts users maintain to manage site content.

Personal Branding and Social Accountability

Social accountability is an effective tool companies like Facebook use to prevent the posting of offensive content. When Facebook users comment on a status or “like” a page their identity becomes associated with the content with some exceptions. Users who create community pages are allowed anonymity. Community pages often become an area for users to post offensive content including off-color jokes and racially discriminatory content. When offensive content is flagged, owners of community pages have the option to either identify themselves or have the content removed. Most users choose not to be associated with the offensive content and voluntary remove the pages. New Jersey web development companies can use similar strategies when crafting terms of use and content policies.

The Problem with Anonymity

Facebook discovered that users post more offensive content when given the option to post it anonymously. Some critics of policies limiting anonymous content argue that burgeoning social movements often operate under a veil of anonymity to protect activists. The internet is the most influential cultural forum of our age. In limiting a user’s ability to post anonymous content, will internet companies unintentionally censor the exchange of important ideas? On the other hand, many people have discovered the destructive power of anonymous online comments and reviews. Operating under the cover of an anonymous handle, internet users can post false and defamatory content without fear of repercussion. If your reputation has been damaged online, an internet defamation lawyer can help you regain control. Internet anonymity can be a powerful tool, but also a damaging weapon.

Image Credit: Spencer E Holtaway

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