How would you feel if you logged onto social media and saw a post using the most foul language imaginable to attack people of your race or religion? Or what if someone claimed you stole money, committed murder, or engaged in perverted acts with children?
You would be hurt and angry - and you'd want to take action. But whether you could get anywhere with efforts to clear your good name is a murky proposition. Laws governing social media haven't caught up to those that hold "traditional" media in check. That's why the internet is a swamp of lies, delusions, exaggeration, threats and insatiable hate.
If you saw these lies in a newspaper, you could sue for libel, defamation of character, or invasion of privacy. If they were broadcast over the airwaves, you might have a case for slander. But recourse for internet attacks are less certain. Not only is it difficult to track down culprits, it requires resources. So while investigators may target people who use the internet to commit felonies, they might lave less time to go after people who accuse others of wrongdoing.
But if you were targeted, wouldn't you want someone to act on your behalf - to pinpoint unproven allegations and to either remove them from the public domain or at least flag them as "fake news"? Almost anyone would - and that's why Facebook, Twitter, and other reputable media sites have begun to do that. With the internet being rife with false information, trolls bent on evil, and many users unable to discern fact from fiction, it is incumbent upon those who run these platforms to intervene.
Some say they're being "censored" by being thwarted in efforts to spread misinformation. That's not true, though. Censorship - in the sense that is morally, ethically and legally wrong - comes at the hands of the government. Otherwise, it's a matter of setting community standards, based on media company values. And since these are private businesses, they have the right - if not the obligation - to set standards. This is akin to the principle of "primum non nocere" - which translates into "first, do no harm." Dispensing false information with the intent of doing harm reeks of malice.
People who push back against standards and insist on spreading lies, hate, bigotry and fear will resist efforts to stop them. They crow about "freedom of speech," but forget that with freedom comes responsibility - and they also claim the "freedom of the press" that belongs to the "press" and not to them. And since the Nov. 3 election, purveyors of hate who reject any notion of propriety have been flocking to other sites that allow them to say whatever they will.
Disgusted with the media, world leaders and top political figures who announced Joe Biden had won the election, President Trump's most ardent fans said they'd abandon social media outlets that did not insist he came out on top. Many flocked to a platform called Parler. But the owners of this platform will likely have to intervene to curtail the hateful rhetoric, outrageous falsehoods and threats of bodily harm spewing forth like a broken water pipe on a busy city street. Many young adults who checked it out were shocked to see the "n-bomb" dropped often. Other slurs are liberally used, some of which these young people had never even heard - like the anti-Semitic "k-bomb."
It's understandable that Trump fans are disappointed by the apparent outcome of the election. It's even more understandable that people resent efforts to curb so-called "free speech." But when even a cursory glance at a platform reveals a level of hatred so deep it could destroy entire families, communities and even countries, it's incumbent upon rational folks to back away quickly. We cannot heal as a society if we allow ourselves to fall into such traps.