A recent Washington Post article brought to light an interesting question of whether the “right to tweet” exists after the arrest of six British Twitter users who posted ‘inappropriate sentiments’ in the aftermath of the beheading of a British soldier in broad daylight in London.
According to the article, 653 users were charged with some sort of criminal activity in England and Wales last year because of their social media activities.
In the U.S., high school students have been arrested after expressing, via social media, threats to inflict violence. The question arises as to whether the First Amendment and freedom of speech can and should be used to protect Internet users already shrouded within walls of Internet anonymity.
For societies that pride themselves upon free expression and speech, placing impositions upon online activities seems like an oppressive form of censorship. Yet some of the consequences for this unbridled speech can be reprehensible, such as the case of Twitter users who harassed Australian model Charlotte Dawson to the point of attempted suicide. Harassing her without using modern technologies would have certainly resulted in some form of disciplinary legal action. Yet boundaries are constantly being blurred.
According to the same Washington Post article, a British Twitter user was arrested for tweeting Olympic diver Tom Daley that his less-than-gold-medal worthy athleticism would have disappointed the
17-year-old’s late father. While the comment was cruel and in poor taste, taking legal action upon the commenter, who may have previously said something to this effect to Daley or written a letter to him with this hurtful content, is certainly questionable.
Twitter enables information to be received — and sent — with immediacy and little thought. Such mediums require great restraint and responsibility. Access to a Twitter account provides each user with a megaphone to amplify his or her voice, giving individuals a media outlet of their own. And with this outlet, comes the responsibility of each user to judge what content they believe is worthy of being heard.
This stream of expression allows activists and whistleblowers around the world to bring light to issues that may never be picked up by mainstream media, outweighing the consequences that misuse can bring. Yet users of social media must take better ownership of their accountability before restrains are placed upon them.
Each individual has a personal responsibility, to themselves and society, to proofread their sentiments and understand the implications of their words.
Divya Kumar is a junior majoring in mass communications and ecconomics