I’ve said this before, and I will say it again. Speech that is considered offensive, hateful, rude, or insensitive, lies in the eyes of the beholder. In other words, speech that offends you, doesn’t offend someone else. And things you say which you don’t find offensive, well, they will offend someone else. There is a price to pay for having the great right of free speech, and that price is that people may be exposed to points of view or comments that they do not like. The fact that someone else’s speech offends you does not give you the right to prohibit said speech, regardless of how offensive. You do have the right to denounce the speech, though. Personally, it seems like a rather small price to pay when compared to the alternative – government regulation and ultimately suppression of speech. Using Donald Trump as an example, do you really want to give him and his administration the authority to decide what people should and should not be permitted to say? I hope that is answer is no, and recently, the University of Missouri performed a study to learn how people view the role of social media companies in acting as moderators of speech that is deemed offensive or hateful.
The study used four focus groups which were created based on race and gender, with the groups being African-American females, African-American males, whites females, and white males. And for the most part, the groups had similar opinions on the issue of hateful and offensive speech. Generally, they did not like that type of speech, which I think we can all empathize with, but they also believed that sites should not censor such speech either, which is very refreshing.
The one ubiquitous feeling from the focus groups was that social media companies need to develop a policy for offensive and hateful speech, be transparent about what is and isn’t allowed under the policy, and enforce the policy without bias, which all sound like reasonable requests.
In a time when it seems like everyone is losing their mind when they hear an opinion that differs from their own, studies like this should remind us that there are still some sane people out there.