Censorship: From Donald Trump to Upper School Students
Lucy Palma ‘23
Have you ever gone to post something on social media, and the next thing you know, it was removed, not because of a glitch, but because it was censored? Well if your answer is yes, you are not alone! According to a survey sent out to the Upper School, and filled out by 43 students, 40% of those students have had a post or comment censored. Of those people, 10 reported that the censorship took place on Instagram, and the staff members of The Voice can agree with this statistic, because it also happened to us.
In the past few months, censorship on social media has been a growing debate and issue. The idea that the media is spreading “fake news” has had an impact on our lives like no other generation before us and it has led to a distrust in the media. Specifically, with the events that occurred at the Capitol on January 6th, came a series of conspiracy theories and lies spread by people who have power and who influence people's actions and beliefs in our country.
These figures in our society who have power and influence have taken advantage of the social media platforms and used them to spread hate speech and lies, as well as influence their followers to do various acts in their name. The most relevant example of a political figure taking advantage of these platforms is Former President Trump. Throughout his four years as president, Trump used Twitter very frequently to reach his supporters, often spreading false information to them and everyone else on the app. Finally, at the very end of his term, Twitter and Facebook had had enough, and chose to ban Trump from their platforms permanently. Through Twitter’s website, they posted a letter explaining and addressing in full detail why they banned him. The reason stated most clearly about why he was banned was “how they [tweets] are being received and interpreted on and off Twitter — we have permanently suspended the account due to the risk of further incitement of violence.” The letter goes into more detail about the decision, specifying that Twitter wants to be a place where “elected officials and world leaders” can address the public easily and quickly, however they strongly believe that the accounts of these people are “not above our rules entirely and cannot use Twitter to incite violence.” Based on the letter on Twitter’s website, they seem to have a pretty detailed system of how they review these Tweets.
The Voice staff was also aware of this growing distrust in the media and Trump’s actions on Twitter, specifically around the time of the Capitol riots, and decided to post our thoughts on Instagram: “Last night the media was targeted by protesters who stalked reporters, vandalized "murder the media," and harrassed cameramen and photographers. The Voice staff stands by the journalists and news outlets who committed to reporting accurate and reliable coverage of last night's events. The media is an essential American institution that is responsible for relaying true and important information to the public.” Shortly after posting this, Instagram notified The Voice account that the post had been taken down, but did not say why they took it down. A member of the Voice staff went on to email Instagram to ask why our post was taken down, but received no response. When referring to his posts that have also been taken down before, Theo Weiman ‘24 shared a similar experience, “usually...it doesn't like give specific reasoning.” For a lot of The Voice staff, this was the first time they saw something on social media get completely censored.
Although The Voice and a majority of the people surveyed ran into trouble on Instagram, TikTok is another social media platform that seems to have a lot of censorship problems. Tik Tok is quick to shut down any accounts which “violate community guidelines,” and they do the exact same thing for comments or posts that they feel fit into this category. According to their community guidelines document, TikTok describes what they feel violates their guidelines and should be allowed to be removed from their platform. The website describes a wide range of reasons from “violent extremism” to “illegal activities and regulated goods” and “minor safety.”
When surveying the Upper School students, I found that they got banned or censored on social media for many different reasons, some of which did not fall into any of the guideline categories but still got censored. Some of the comments and posts that got taken down included “Bernie Sanders memes and comments,” “explicit language,” “Mentally Triggering material” and “Speaking about an unpopular opinion.” Another common theme among the students surveyed was copyrighted music on Instagram, as well as “what I am wearing for tiktok.” Clearly, the reasons for getting a post taken down or copyrighted varied quite a bit.
The debate as to whether these private social media companies can restrict and censor is ongoing. Most people vary pretty significantly on how much they feel social media companies should be allowed to censor. Upper School history teacher Mr. Garikes sheds some light on what these companies can do legally: “To protect itself from possible lawsuits for slander a private company must retain the right to censor what goes on its platform. If Twitter censors a user that user can find other ways to express themselves. Today the law clearly allows for private companies to censor and restrict what is on their platforms. I think the private companies should retain the right to censor untruthful, destructive content on their platforms.”
Contrastingly, Weiman takes a different approach to censorship in our world, “I think that for that certain situation, it was okay for them to do but I think it just shouldn't be a common occurrence, especially for political figures, because I think it's important that we do allow free speech, and like, varying opinions, but also for that specific instance it was a little bit different.”