Tech, Now + Beyond

Hate speech should not be protected by tech companies anymore

Tech companies need to stop protecting the alt-right on social media under the free speech premise because it puts marginalized bodies in danger

I will never forget August 11, 2017. It was the first time I ever felt unsafe as a Jewish person in the United States.

I would consider myself pretty fortunate growing up in suburban Massachusetts in a liberal – well, neoliberal – area. The extent of the anti-semitism that I faced was people telling me that they were so shocked that I was Jewish – because apparently, all Jewish people look the same?

August 11, 2017, was the day of the  Unite the Right Rally. I never thought that I would hear that a large group of people, in a country where I call home, were yelling Nazi chants like “Blood and Soil” and “Jews will not replace us.”

The most ironic part was that the same social media platforms that I used to learn about the atrocities that transpired in Charlottesville, Virginia that day were the same social media platforms the alt-right used to organize and spread their hatred. The Unite the Right Rally was organized on Facebook, and Facebook only took their event page down the day before the event.

I don’t think it should be applauded that Facebook took the event down the day before given their history of defending the “freedom of speech” of the alt-right, white supremacists, and other awful human beings. In another situation, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg defended Holocaust deniers because he doesn’t “think they’re intentionally getting it wrong.”

While these are specific examples, they feed into a bigger picture of how tech companies, like Facebook or Twitter, protect the alt-right, by claiming that they should have the right to free speech. However, when protecting the people who spew horrible rhetoric and ideologies, marginalized groups not only do not feel safe, their lives are put in danger, as seen by the death of Heather Heyer and injuries of others at the Unite the Right rally.

At times, I prefer Canada’s hate speech laws to the United States’ free speech laws. While I do think free speech is invaluable, hate speech and ideologies’ put marginalized people’s livelihoods at risk. I can say in my own experience, I am enraged that Twitter refused to do anything about someone who mocked my chronic illness and that Facebook told me that a guy who threatened me did not violate any standards, despite the screenshots that I provided.

Even in day to day usage, marginalized groups are targeted by Facebook’s policies. People who fairly complain about the harms of patriarchy and gendered violence by using expressions like “men are trash” are often zucced, which means a post was removed or a person can even be suspended.

Certain marginalized groups have even moved to create their own safe social media spaces due to the protection of the alt-right on platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Jewish people have created a new social media platform called Jewbook, which tries to be a non-Neo-Nazi-defending version of Facebook. However, this site is not without faults. Jews of Color like Nylah Burton have reported that they have felt unsafe and unheard on the platform Jewbook.

Regardless, marginalized groups should not have to put in the extra labor to create spaces where they are not constantly attacked. Tech companies need to step up and not allow white supremacists and others who attack marginalized people to have a platform on social media.