The Social Responsibility of Social Media

“You are what you Tweet!”   -Terms of Service, Twitter

During the SuperBowl this year, everything seemed to go according to plan. One team won, the other team lost, Bruno Mars performed, and large corporations spend millions of dollars to air their commercials. Nothing out of the ordinary. However, in the twitter-verse, there was a storm brewing — a really bad storm.

After the airing of Coca-Cola’s “It’s Beautiful” commercial, where the song “America the Beautiful” is sung in multiple languages by a variety of races and family types, hundreds of Americans took to Twitter to post their complaints. In case you haven’t seen it, you can watch the video here:

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Actually — “complaints” isn’t the right word. They took to Twitter to post their racist, anti-gay, anti-multicultural, backwards beliefs. And that’s putting it lightly. Most of the comments danced on the edge of becoming a hate crime – all because a beverage company wanted to celebrate the fact that America is a melting pot. This should have been a “sure thing” for Coke – they targeted every single minority across the country with their message – so what went wrong? In their attempt to include everyone in the messaging – they managed to anger any American who feels that English is the only language that should be associated with the country. And not only English language – but caucasians, too.

As we’ve seen in previous “crisis” situations – such as Toronto Ice storm outage – a diverse community was spontaneously formed on social media, which consisted of three distinct perspectives: Racists, those with common sense, and Moderators. Yes, I’m biased when referencing these groups. For obvious reasons, I can’t support any of the tweets that contained racist, hateful comments. I guess you could say I fall into the “common sense” category – which contains those who stand against such prejudice. For example:

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The moderators played their typical role, preaching “freedom of speech” or “everyone is entitled to their opinion” — but is that enough? Is it really ok to spread such hateful messages through the social media community? When is it time for the company – in this case, Twitter – to step in? If at all?

After reviewing Twitter’s Terms of Service, it quickly becomes clear that they’ve done all in their power to completely disassociate themselves from any content posted by their users. However – they do state that they “reserve the right to remove or refuse to distribute any content, or to suspend or terminate users” – but that’s only applicable to content that directly impacts Twitter the company, or if the content is requested by law enforcement. Nothing about “online abuse” or “racism/hate crimes”.

Digging deeper into Twitter’s Rules – there seems to be more rules regarding “spam” than anything else – including the perpetuation of hateful messages. So what gives? Each of the users you see below are still active on Twitter – their accounts have not been closed or suspended, even though they’ve said some really disgusting comments:

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we speak english

And I assure you – there are hundreds of comments like these online right now. Should Twitter be responsible for taking these types of comments down? If you try to Report the Tweet (found under the …More option) you are required to complete a form indicating the reasons why you feel the tweet is abusive in nature. However, if the tweet content isn’t breaking any of the “Twitter Rules”, then nothing is done. You can easily find any of the tweets above, they’re still out there in the Twitter-verse.

When is it time for the company to take some social responsibility for the messages communicated via their product/platform? Or are we, the users, responsible for policing this social sphere? You may want to think a little harder before you hit the “post” button on your next tweet.

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One thought on “The Social Responsibility of Social Media

  1. i know this commercial’s old news by now, but you make a good point. people usually cite “freedom of speech” when defending posting their awful, bigoted comments for everyone to see. which is silly, cause “freedom of speech” actually only means you won’t be arrested for saying those things. honestly, it shouldn’t defend you from any repercussions short of being thrown in jail.

    so yea, i do think that twitter should make these people answer for shouting “speak english!1!!” and throwing the fucking n-word everywhere. it may be nothing new, but it doesn’t have to continue—they should take responsibility by coming down a little harder. maybe make it easier to report tweets?

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