The phrase “freedom of speech” gains entirely different shades of meaning depending on who is using it and what it is being used for.
That being said, whether the First Amendment—or, for Canadians, Section Two of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms—applies to social media platforms has proven to be even more of a divisive issue than defining this term.
Some of the content shared on Facebook, for example, can range in extremity—you start by indulging in the innocent nostalgia of old video games, and in just a few clicks of the mouse you’ll find yourself swamped in some truly disturbing and violent imagery. Sometimes a person will merge two entirely different concepts into something truly tasteless, and that content might get removed by the site.
But in order to get the banhammer laid down on your ass, you have to post something that garners a hell of a lot of negative attention—attention that puts Facebook in a bad light in front of the public and the press.
Whether they get banned forever usually doesn’t matter. After all, the person who posted the offensive material typically gets what they want—attention. Even if they are perma-banned, they often still have the satisfaction of getting the reaction that they desired. Of course, though the account they were using is no longer functional, that probably won’t stop them from creating a new account through which they can continue their quest to intentionally shock and upset people.
Alex Jones is a prime example of negatively publicized behavior getting banned. He is loud, obnoxious, and doesn’t exactly have a tight grip on how the real world works. Jones’ shenanigans warranted a ban for the negative reputation he was giving Facebook.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that offensive material will cease to exist. It will always be posted, shared, and produced in secret pockets in the form of Facebook groups. These groups are controlled by administrators—the people responsible for the groups’ existence—and moderators.
Some of these groups are solely dedicated to posting questionable content. Depending on the group’s main purpose, they’re able to change their visibility setting to “closed” or “secret.” “Closed” means that no one but the group’s own members can see its posts, while “secret” means that the entire group’s existence is missing when its name is brought up on the search bar.
Don’t be a disruptive, obnoxious, entitled jackass and you won’t be banned from Facebook. That is, unless you’re in a group with the visibility setting to “closed” or “secret,” because if that’s the case, it evidently doesn’t really matter!