In one of
Rawls’ early essays, he coined the definition of a person who is a “competent moral judge” (Rawls 1999,
pp.3): someone with the ability to relate with persons who are in a variety of
different moral positions. Rawls argues that the onus is on all of us to become
‘competent moral judges,’ because this is the foundation for a democratic
society. This is not mob rule as mob rule is not in accordance with liberal
principles. A liberal democratic society still has to accept Mill’s view of one
person being able to stand against the rest of the world with their opinions. Understanding
liberal principles is exactly what Rawls understands as the conditions for
moral competency. Relating with other people does not mean that they are
therefore approving the judgements they have made, but instead that a much
greater understanding and appreciation can be produced by creatively entering
into their circumstances. (Card 2007, pp.9) As far as this, in any aspect of
life applies to the internet and social media, the onus is on us all to become
competent moral judges and not leave it to, in this case the providers of
social media whose knowledge is technical knowledge not moral knowledge. Not
only would this delegation be a surrender of our moral responsibilities in a
liberal society, but it would create an undue burden for the providers of social
media platforms to have to decide and impose the lines of censorship. The moral
issue is one which needs to be addressed as a society, and through societal
consensus to instruct our political representatives where and how to change the
law.

 

Rawls
would argue that decisions on harm and the lines of censorship should be for
the public to take responsibility for, through taking steps of deliberation to
reach consensus, which can be bought to bear on our political representatives.

And the obligation of social media providers is to conform to that consensus
and the decisions of our political representatives.  I believe
that Rawls’ various accounts of what constitute a liberal society ties in with
exactly with my notion of free speech with regard to terrorism via social
media. In ‘The Law of Peoples’ (2001) Rawls offered a normative account of what
societies ought to be like, and distinguished between liberal and non-liberal
societies. I believe that maintaining a careful balance with regard to internet
censorship and free speech is vitally important for a liberal society, and that
any decision to increase internet censorship to include endorsement of illegal
acts may be a turning point in a slippery slope towards an illiberal society
that tends towards totalitarianism.

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Liberal societies are peaceful and diverse, they protect free speech and
are governed by reasonable people who protect all basic human rights. I argue
that this definition of a liberal society fits in perfectly with my definition
of free speech and what is allowed and not allowed. I contend that in a liberal
society, endorsement and discussion of any act should be treated as free speech
and thus accepted by all members of said society. In contrast, non-liberal
societies fail to treat their members as truly free and equal; posts on social
media that endorse the opinions of the minority are immediately censored, and these
societies might adopt twisted notions of justice and morality due to their
coercion. A good example of this might be North Korea. I argue that any truly liberal
society is founded upon the ideas of respect for others, in the sense of
treating citizens as equals and not on the prospect of harming others.  Additionally, restrictions on liberty can and
indeed should be prescribed when threats of immediate violence are voiced against
some individuals or groups, as I have argued throughout this essay. There
becomes a point where legally and morally, social media platforms have an
obligation to remove content that is coercive and inciting illegal activity in
any way. (Sneed 1976, pp.18)

 

I would like to draw this essay to a close by
attempting to establish a genuine case where what I have been arguing perhaps
does not apply; an anomalous case specific to social media where it does not
seem right to apply my standard. There are scenarios which often appear where
users of social media use their platforms or fake accounts to spread lies and
false information in order to incite racial division and hatred. A prime
example of this is the spreading of generic hate of Muslims in Sweden.

Recently, Sweden has experienced a record level of immigration into their
country, as a nation they have been extremely welcoming to immigrants in recent
years, with 163,000 people entering the country (of only circa 10 million
inhabitants) in 2016, compared to 60,000 in 2000. Yet, as with so many of the
immigrant crises taking place throughout the world, some residents of ‘destination’
countries do not feel they have a responsibility to take in these helpless
people, and take to social media to vent their anger and fear. Posts make their
way to social media voicing people’s disgust with their government for taking
in refugees, and it brings about offensive and untrue propaganda on those who
have escaped dangers or lack of opportunity in their own country to look for a
better life. Cristina Laila wrote “Women
in Islamic clothing wander around Sweden and
violent Muslim men beat and rape the Swedish natives” (Laila, 2017) and coined the term ‘Swedenistan’
in order to spread a message of the universal unpleasantness of the Muslim
community that has moved into their country; an unjustified and generic post
attempting to incite hatred towards all of these people. Laila continued to
criticise the community of the Muslims in Sweden by announcing to McDonalds
that they are making the immigration problem even worse by introducing a
section of their menu in Arabic: “McDonald’s is
also doing their part to make sure that Sweden loses their language and identity by catering to
their new demographic, Arabs.” (Laila, 2017) Of course, what she failed to
include was that their menu contained English and Swedish also, but this was
chosen to not make it on to her tweet.

 

In this case, I feel that my principle of the protection of free speech
on social media does not apply. This
case is different to others that have been addressed because it firstly is not
the truth, nor it does not
directly incite violence, nor is it terroristic speech as it is not coercive; but I argue that it does cause harm. As previously mentioned in this paper, posts containing untrue
information which is offensive to others do not cross the line into the sphere
of hate speech or terroristic speech as part of what makes free speech is
ability to offend. Yet we must ensure that the line that we do not cross is the
line that takes us from offense to harm. I maintain that hate speech inherently
causes harm, as legal Philosopher Jeremy Waldron argues, “Each person . . . should be able to go about his or her business, with
the assurance that there will be no need to face hostility, violence,
discrimination or exclusion by others.” (Waldron 2014, pp.4) I argue that this form of speech
on social media falls into the bracket of hate speech and in cases where violence
or intent to harm is occurring then this equally falls into the bracket of
terroristic speech and thus should be liable for censorship; hate speech and
terroristic speech undermine the public good of a well-ordered society. The frequency and power of ‘fake news’ in the
reporting of the 2016 US Presidential election, and the
Brexit vote for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union are recent
examples of the relegation of truth and its value. Surely there
must be some responsibility on the providers of social media to censor untrue material that is spreading what most would
consider harmful fake news and generalisation by attacking an entire religion
rather than a defined sub-group or individual with a message of racial
division. 

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