Social media is omnipresent in modern society, affording people a range of options for social connection.
As a relatively new technology, social media began to popularize in the mid-2000s following the launch of pioneering platforms such as Myspace. The industry developed further as dominance shifted towards platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.
People crave the freedom of independence and mobility while, at the same time, wanting to remain socially connected. Social media indulges this desire, providing the freedom to connect and engage with other users, while being able to disseminate opinions in the public domain at almost any place at any time.
Social media has helped to further the many benefits of globalization, and provides a platform for advertising. Facebook is used by an average of 1.62 billion active users every day, as of September 2019. This represents a phenomenal outreach potential for businesses and individuals.
Importance of social media
Social media has now become the main source of communication, news, and information for many people. Often, individuals share their views and engage in discussions centered around current affairs, which contributes to increasing the opportunities for getting involved in civil discourse. Such debate leads to the creation of a virtual open marketplace of ideas, an important aspect of any free society.
Private platforms for social media serve as the frontline in the battle of ideas. Public opinion can often be gauged from the analysis of responses and comments on social network activity.
Individuals in poorer countries can also benefit from their burgeoning access to the internet, in particular social media. This increased availability of information allows unprecedented access to global culture, and opportunities for learning.
Advertising possibilities are also seemingly limitless. It allows private businesses to target selected individuals with more relevant content, although this raises certain ethical questions regarding privacy. Social media has revolutionized advertising, allowing many businesses to break into global markets which would otherwise have remained inaccessible.
However, this ability to advertise and influence on a global scale has given rise to increasing concern over the occurrence of fraudulent advertising and misinformation.
Threats to social media
Outrage surrounding posts deemed to be expressing unacceptable opinions can unfortunately fuel a culture of censorship. What’s more, imposing restrictions on content represents a dangerous threat to free speech, especially given the importance of social media in society today.
Clearly, action should be taken where there is incitation to violence, hate crimes, or the harassment of individuals. However, it would be rare that such action would need to involve the government in any way.
Despite the huge significance of social media platforms, they are not public utilities and should not be treated as such. Therefore, it is inappropriate to expect the government to intervene in their running, as though they were public services. Confusion can arise with this distinction due to frequent government intrusion regarding anti-terror activity, requiring the sharing of information, and access to data.
Why social media policy is important to SFL
At Students For Liberty, we believe in the importance of keeping social media platforms independent and free from government interference. However, it would be preferable to promote the idea of social media being an environment of open discussion, where all opinions can be debated, no matter how controversial. This can only happen through an acceptance of individual responsibility.