Accountability in the era of social media
By Adam Levine
Freedom of speech is a cherished right in the United States. However, this right does not equate to freedom from consequences.
Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but there is a time and place to voice them. And the wrong time and place can lead to consequences.
Twitter limits their users to 280 characters per tweet. Instagram limits its users to 2,200 characters per caption. Facebook limits its users to 63,206 characters per post. TikTok now allows its users to post videos up to 10 minutes long.
As of 2021, approximately 72% of the U.S. population use social media, according to the Pew Research Center.
Easy access to social media posting does not give users the right to say anything without consequences.
On Oct. 13, 2014, American singer-songwriter Chris Brown tweeted his opinion on the Ebola virus, which is responsible for more than 11,000 deaths from 2014 to 2016, according to the CDC.
Brown claimed the virus was a form of "population control."
Despite Brown voicing this common conspiracy, the spread of Ebola in certain areas can be explained by the lack of resources in developing countries, according to the Journal of Molecular Biochemistry.
Brown responded to the backlash from his tweet with a half-baked, sarcastic apology that received even more backlash from social media.
On March 18, 2020, American actress Vanessa Hudgens posted an Instagram video about the COVID-19 virus saying, "Even if everybody gets it, like yeah, people are going to die, which is terrible… but inevitable?"
Hudgens quickly followed up with an apology saying, “This has been a huge wake up call to the significance my words have, now more than ever.”
At the time of Hudgens’ statement, the COVID-19 virus had affected all 50 states in the U.S., resulting in 108 deaths from over 6,300 confirmed cases, according to BBC News.
Brown currently has 31.9 million followers on Twitter and Hudgens currently has 49.7 million followers on Instagram.
Both of these celebrities hold a position of power and influence due to their large social media presence.
People in other countries can abuse free speech, too.
In an interview with the French television network Canal+ in 2015, the French ecology minister at the time, Ségolène Royal, said, “We have to replant a lot of trees because there is massive deforestation that also leads to global warming. We should stop eating Nutella, for example, because it’s made with palm oil.”
Royal gave a public apology via Twitter days later after Ferro, the company responsible for producing Nutella, said they source their palm oil from sustainable plantations, according to USA Today.
As the French ecology minister, Royal expressed her misinformed opinion as a fact. Her position of political power and influence carried economic and environmental implications.
Opinions are a vital aspect of individual freedoms.
While sharing an opinion is a right under freedom of speech, there is a time and place to do so as these opinions can be hurtful.
Brown, Hudgens, and Royal made headlines because of how the world responded to them publicly expressing their opinions.
Additionally, with the increase in usage of social media, everyday users hide behind screens while spreading hate speech.
None of this is OK.
Social media users across the world need to be held accountable for expressing their opinions as facts, which only leads to the spread of harmful misinformation.
Being entitled to your own opinion and having freedom of speech does not equate to freedom from consequences.
And there needs to be consequences for making statements that are offensive to others.
Think before you speak. Think before you post. And think before you share.