I would like for social media platforms to be run like a public forum, but since they are privately owned companies, they have the right to make their own rules as long as it doesn’t violate any laws or the Constitution in any way. Instagram’s community standards are put in place to protect users, especially those underage. The minimum age requirement to sign up for Instagram is 13. If a pornographic image were to pop up on a 13-year-old’s page — an image that would currently violate the social media terms and conditions, as well as the community standards — then that would be catastrophic for those young users. There was a controversy where young women were showing their bare crotches in an Instagram post and it was taken down because the post violated Instagram’s community standards. That post was then put into question nationally because it was seen that Instagram had violated their first amendment right to freedom of speech and expression. However, as I said, Instagram is owned privately and has full control over its user base.
An exception to this rule would be Twitter. On Twitter especially we are seeing a shift in what is being censored and what is allowed to flow freely. President Donald J. Trump’s tweets, some violently depicting him “taking down” CNN in a wrestling tweet, or him kicking/tripping Hillary Clinton into a plane, have upset users around the world who claim those tweets violate the Twitter community standards. Rose McGowan, an actress who has been outspoken against Harvey Weinstein and has accused him of assault, was blocked on Twitter because she violated its Terms of Service; One of her tweets included a private phone number, which violated their rules. In the end, it is very unlikely that we will see Trump’s account become deactivated. It was deactivated for 11 minutes by a rogue employee, but other than that, there won’t be much action taken on their end because the line between the Executive Branch of the U.S. and their social media company is so fine.
I think we will start to see a shift in social media management of what is fair and what is not when it comes to censorship and freedom of speech and expression. Currently, there is a lot of limitations put in place by the social media giants, but I do think this will change in the future as the world continues to shift in the direction we are going. We are a generation being consumed by social media, and it’s only a matter of time before that shows in the Terms of Service agreements that enable us to sign our life and rights away.
Rachel Ettlinger, a student in Jon Pfeiffer’s Spring 2018 Media Law class at Pepperdine University, wrote the above essay in response to the following question: Do you think social media terms and conditions, such as Instagram's community standards, violates users' rights to free speech? Are social media platforms privately run companies and platforms that have the right to monitor use and establish rules or do you think social media functions more like a public forum?