Alice Stinebaugh, a Parkland High School economics teacher, said, “[Students] know that [social media] is a potential weapon of mass destruction.” Stinebaugh said this at Parkland’s First Amendment Forum, and she was referring to social media, specifically the dangers of hate speech.
It wasn’t a statement out of the blue. Christopher Borick, Muhlenberg College professor of political science, had created poll questions for Parkland students on whether hate speech should be allowed in social media and if the government should help to regulate it. Polls showed 59 percent of Parkland students strongly and somewhat agreed with government intervention in monitoring hate speech on social media.
But I argue students aren’t aware of the dangers that come with government intervention. When it came to the first amendment, almost 40 percent of poll respondents had trouble even naming one of the five freedoms. The digital age we are living in is a pivotal moment in history, especially for students. Yet these poll numbers show students aren’t fully aware of the impact government regulation can have on a community.
It seems they are far too aware of the frustrations of social media, which is reasonable. For example, although social media is a means of freely communicating information, hate speech is an inevitable byproduct that allows for dissemination of bigotry. But should this hate speech be censored?
Freedom of speech, one of the five freedoms under the First Amendment, is one of the most fundamental rights held by American citizens. The intense desire for this right catalyzed the American Revolution itself. Although it may seem that the only freedom of speech found in social media is hate speech, freedom of speech is also characteristic of all other content. We tend to not recognize the rights we have until we see someone using that right in a way we disapprove of.
We must also recognize freedom of speech is a privilege we have that much of the world does not. As the daughter of an immigrant, my mother shares stories about how her opinions were suppressed in her home country. She often reflects on how the government did not protect the speech of their citizens, often allowing drug gangs to murder politicians without being held accountable. She had to make sure her opinions did not conflict with the interest of drug gangs that controlled the village she lived in.
Therefore, the rights that come with social media can allow for hate speech, but I argue students should look at the bigger picture and the unique freedoms the First Amendment provides.
“[Media] is one of the key cornerstones of our democracy,” said David Erdman, former editor and chief of The Morning Call. Considering social media is very often used politically, reducing freedom of speech would prohibit Americans from exercising the principles of this democracy.