Writing Contract

Freedom of Speech and Social Media

Learn about freedom of speech and the First Amendment in regard to social media. Get highlights of content moderation policies from some of social media's most popular platforms.

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only. Don’t use it in place of professional legal advice. Since laws vary by region, contact a lawyer if you require legal advice.

Millions of people turn to social media to share their thoughts, ideas, and experiences. However, while they are popular, that doesn’t mean the First Amendment and freedom of speech apply to social media platforms — the platforms each have guidelines on posting content.

Yet, some states are attempting to enact laws restricting content moderation on these platforms. So, there could be some changes in the near future.

Learn about freedom of speech and the First Amendment in regards to social media. Explore some of the content moderation policies that they have and how things could change in the future.

Does Freedom of Speech Apply to Social Media?

People might think that the First Amendment gives them the right to say whatever, whenever they want, but that’s not how it works. As private companies, social media platforms aren’t bound by its terms

Social media platforms have their own rights under the First Amendment, which allows them to moderate the content that users post on their platforms.

So, as it currently stands, social media companies are not violating freedom of speech with content moderation policies on their platforms. In fact, they generally can’t even be held liable for user posts.

According to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, providers of an interactive computer service cannot be considered publishers or speakers of the content users post on their sites. 

What Can You Say (and Not Say) on Social Media?

So, what are the rules regarding speech on social media? It depends. 

Many social media sites have content moderation policies in place regarding harassment, hate speech, obscenity, and misinformation, but the particulars can vary across platforms. 

Review the policies, terms of service, and guidelines of each platform to make sure you’re posting acceptable content.

Here are examples of the policies different social media platforms have implemented to moderate speech they find unacceptable. 

Harassment

If someone makes unwanted rude, offensive, or degrading comments, then they’re engaging in harassment. 

For this example, Instagram has a policy that bans content involving blackmail and persistent unwelcome messages.

Check out Instagram’s Community Guidelines and Terms of Use to learn more.

Hate Speech

When an individual threatens or offends another person on the basis of religion, gender identity, or ethnicity, then they’re engaging in hate speech. 

For this example, review Facebook’s response. Facebook bans hate speech, including slurs and stereotypes. Further, they also ban organizations that promote hatred.

You can learn more about this policy and others in Facebook’s Community Standards.

Obscenity

In the context of social media platforms, obscenity typically refers to material that doesn’t comply with public decency.

In this example, TikTok’s policy and community guidelines ban sensitive material and mature themes.

TikTok’s Terms of Service and Community Guidelines provide additional policy information.

Misinformation

According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report, misinformation and disinformation have become one of the most serious short-term risks in the world. Misinformation includes false rumors, pranks, elaborate hoaxes, and propaganda.

For this example, look at X (formerly Twitter). Their policy on misinformation bans users who impersonate individuals or groups to mislead others. They also have a policy that bans content that could confuse people about participating in civic processes (such as elections).

Check out The X Rules to learn more about their policies.

The Pros and Cons of AI for Social Media Content Moderation

On Instagram alone, users share about 1099 posts per second. With so much content, it’s no surprise that social media platforms turn to artificial intelligence to moderate posts.

Pros 

Take Facebook’s approach to AI, for example. They use AI to “... detect and remove content that goes against our Community Standards before anyone reports it”. In some ways, this is great. 

  • AI allows social media companies to moderate content at scale. 
  • It speeds up the time it takes to remove harmful content.

Cons

However, as with content creation, there are limitations to using AI for social media content moderation that still need to be sorted out. 

  • One of the biggest ones is algorithmic bias — AI is only as smart as the data it has been trained on. 
  • This causes issues if the data contains a bias because the technology could use that bias when carrying out tasks.

You can help guard against this algorithmic bias in the content you publish by using an AI content detector and fact-checking any AI-generated text.

However, it’s not that simple when it comes to AI content moderation. Sure, sometimes Facebook’s technology will send content for human review, but what about the content it removes before anyone sees it? It raises questions as AI and social media platforms continue to adapt to technological changes.

Why Are Some States Trying to Restrict Social Media Moderation?

Proponents of proposed social media laws in Texas and Florida think there’s a liberal bias against conservative content on these platforms, according to The New York Times

While the exact details of each law may differ, they would both limit the ability of social media companies to choose what kind of content they allow on their websites.

Social media companies on the other hand, are arguing that these laws violate their First Amendment right to moderate content as private entities. So, if the Supreme Court rules that these laws are constitutional, it could mean some serious changes to the way social media companies operate, and create new liability for the content they host on their platforms.

Final Thoughts

The role of freedom of speech in regards to social media companies could change in the near future. So, it’s important to keep an eye on social media guidelines or policies and the news. Then, use an AI content detector to review content and edit your posts accordingly before publishing them.

Jess Sawyer

Jess Sawyer is a seasoned writer and content marketing expert with a passion for crafting engaging and SEO-optimized content. With several years of experience in the digital marketing, Jess has honed her skills in creating content that not only captivates audiences but also ranks high on search engine results.

More From The Blog

AI Content Detector & Plagiarism Checker for Serious Content Publishers

Improve your content quality by accurately detecting duplicate content and artificially generated text.