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Social Media Companies should be Held Liable for Cyberbullying


Posted on Aug 2017



Introduction

 Social media is one of the fastest growing forms of communication in the world. Social media allow the use of technology to facilitate social interaction among people, especially through the use of Internet-based applications that make it possible for creation as well as the exchange of content that is user-generated(Luxton, June and Fairall 195). Some of the widely used social media platforms include social media networking sites, such as Twitter, Facebook, blogging related websites, video sites as well as electronic bulletin platforms. Despite the fact that social media play an influential role when it comes to enhancing communication among people, especially personalized based communication compared to traditional media, it has been blamed for the rise in the cases of cyber bullying in U.S and other parts of the world. Cyberbullying involves a person making use of electronic media in sending messages to another individual, ones that are threatening or intimidating in nature. According to Donegan, the number of cases of cyberbullying related cases reported in the social media has been on the rise (Donegan 34). Most of the social media bullying cases relate to persons insulting, spreading false information about another or threatening the life of another. The social media bullying has been reported to have a negative effect on the victims’ social, psychological and mental well-being.

 Due to the rise in the number of the cases of social media related bullying, there has been an ongoing debate on whether social media companies should be held liable for cyberbullying in their respective sites or not. There are those who argue that social media companies are supposed to control bullying related messages on their sites, but other argues that it is impossible for the companies to control bullying-related crimes. However, I strongly believe that social media companies are supposed to be held accountable for cases of bullying carried out in their sites by individuals. Despite the fact that it is not possible to control what people say, but it is possible to monitor the messages and posts of individuals and pulling down ones that are of the nature of bullying or hate crime.

Why Social Media is Important in the Society

            First, before looking at the issue of bullying in social media, it is vital to have a brief discussion on the positive impacts of using social media in the society. The use of social media has helped in enhancing communication among people from different parts of the world (Cohen-Almagor 31). For example, one can communicate with people from U.S, while in U.K, through the use of social media. Additionally, the social media has revolutionized access to new in the society. Today, people can easily access news report related to issues happening around the world, immediately they happen, without them being edited in any way as it is the case with the mainstream media (Cohen-Almagor 12).

            Furthermore, social media have been instrumental in enhancing interaction of people around the world. People can create accounts, which they use to interact with friends from different parts of the world, through messaging and posting of some thoughts (Cohen-Almagor 32). This indicates that through social media people can interact with one another on major issues affecting their lives and the society. For instance, companies around the world are using social media as part of marketing strategies to have a personalized interaction with customers. Also, social media have been instrumental in enhancing cultural and social interactions in different fields, such as in the field of education, sporting and others.

 However, social media benefits have been overshadowed by the rise in incidences of bullying and hate messages. This has brought the debate concerning what should be done to control hate within social media. The main argument has focused on holding social media companies accountable for the bullying actions of their users. There are many reasons why it is vital to hold the companies responsible for bullying incidences.

Argument in Support of holding Social Media Liable for Cyberbullying

 One of the reasons why social media related bullying needs to be controlled by holding social media liable for any bullying crimes committed by users is due to the negative effects that it has on the victims' social, psychological and mental well-being. The number of suicides among the teens arising due to social media bullying has been on the rise (Luxton, June and Fairall 196). For example, in the U.S the number of teens committing suicide due to being bullied online, especially through social media is worrying. The current trend indicates that the number of people losing their lives due to being bullied through social media is rising at an alarming rate. 

 When a post about a person that is demeaning is made on a social media site, it is seen by thousands or millions of people at times. The post has a negative effect on the social well-being of the affected victim. The victim's self-confidence and this makes a victim to commit suicide due to the public embarrassment caused by a demeaning post (Görzig and Frumkin 8). The rise in the number of bullying-related suicides among the teens and other groups of people in the society is something that shows that social media use needs to be controlled and regulated.  The negative social and psychological impacts of being bullied through social media platforms are something that has adverse effects on the quality of the life of the victims. This shows that social media companies are supposed to be held accountable for the bullying messages and posts, as they have a responsibility of ensuring that their sites are not used to cause harm to other individuals in the society.

            Second, social media companies are supposed to put in place measures aimed at monitoring and controlling bullying and hate messages. Snakenborg, Van Acker and Gable (87) notes that pulling down posts that are hateful or threatening in nature can help in preventing social media bullying from having a negative impact on the victims. It is the responsibility of the social media companies to come up with strategies for continually monitoring cases of cyberbullying in different accounts and taking appropriate actions of pulling down negative posts and messages that are hateful in nature. Every business organization has a responsibility of ensuring that it does not offer services or products that cause harm to any person from a legal perspective. Therefore, social media companies have a legal obligation of ensuring that they have strong policies in place of control messages that are demeaned to be in violation of the constitution on the freedom of expression and opinion by pulling them for the interest of good for the greater public (DeNardis and Hackl 765).

             The main challenge today is that most of the social media companies have policies in place aimed at preventing bullying incidences, but they do not implement most of them, given they cannot be held accountable directly for bullying incidences by institutions of justice in the society, such as courts. Thus, there is urgent need of putting in place legal measures that make social media companies liable for actions of their users who engage in bullying related activities through their social media accounts platforms provided by these companies. Holding the companies responsible legally can force them to act effectively by ensuring that any hateful post did not stay for more than an hour before it is detected and pulled down.

            Furthermore, social media companies have an ethical obligation of ensuring that what is posted by individuals in their sites does not cause harm to others. According to Whittaker and Kowalski (11) cyberbullying through social media is a form of violence that causes harm mainly to young people. The incidences of suicides among young people due to being threatened or bullied through social media have been on the rise in the U.S.

             The high cases of bullying in the U.S and the negative implications of these cases are an indication that social media bullying is not good at for the society, especially the affected victims. Social media companies have an ethical obligation of ensuring that they prevent individuals from using their platforms to cause harm to others. This can only be achievable by ensuring that social media companies are held to account for any bullying incidences that occur within their platforms. 

 If an action is causing harm to the majority of the people; then, an organization is supposed to come up with measures that can help ensure that the same action is not repeated in the future. The way in which social media companies can manage to deal with bullying incidences has strong monitoring systems that help to identify hateful messages or any other incidences of bullying and pulling down the messages immediately or closing an account that engages in bullying related activities permanently (DeNardis and Hackl 768).

             Nonetheless, the social media companies currently have not invested in strong monitoring systems allowing incidences of bullying in their sites to continue taking place. This means that the only way to force social media companies to enforce their ethical obligation of preventing individuals from being harmed through bullying is by holding them to account for the actions of the users who engage in bullying so that they can invest in the right measures of preventing bullying in the future. 

Argument against of holding Social Media Liable for Cyberbullying

 Despite the fact that there are people who support the needs of holding social media companies liable for incidences of bullying in their sites, there is another group of people in the society who strongly oppose the idea. One of the main arguments against social media being held liable for bullying is that it is impossible for the companies to control what is posted by individuals. Individuals have a freedom of speech and denying them freedom of freely expressing their thoughts on social media sites would amount to curtailing their freedom of speech (DeNardis and Hackl 761).

            Thus, according to the U.S Constitution people have a freedom of speech. This means that social media companies cannot curtail what people say or dictate what people write on their sites. For example, it is difficult for social media companies to deny individuals the right to post whatever they want in their social media accounts, as this would amount to denying them the right to express their opinions, which is guaranteed constitutionally. The people have freedom of speech, and it is a challenge for social media companies to control what is posted by individuals on their site fully.  However, every freedom should be exercised responsibly, and the social media companies have responsible of putting in place measures of controlling what is harmful from their users. It is impossible for them to run away from the responsibility of dealing with bullying in their respective sites.

 On the other hand, there are those individuals who argue that social media companies cannot be held to account for the action of individuals. The focus of preventing social media bullying should mainly be in the area ensuring that individuals act in a responsible way (Cohen-Almagor 234). The individuals should be educated on the importance of ensuring that they do not post messages that cause harm to others socially and psychologically. Therefore, the focus of the society should be more in the area of making sure individuals who engage in cyberbullying are held into account as a way of deterring others from engaging in similar activities. 

 Those who provide this argument try to show that individual obligation to act decently should not be passed to the company when a person fails to behave the way he or she is expected legally or socially. However, the argument ignores the facts that social media companies have an obligation of making sure they are not misused by individuals to cause harm to others. The companies should act as regulators of the content posted, making them liable for individual actions of those who post harmful messages. 

Conclusion

 Despite the fact that social media play a critical role in enhancing communication and interactions in the society, it has some adverse effects on the population. The arguments provided in this paper indicate that social media affects victims in an adverse way, where some end up committing suicide. On the basis of the negative implication of the uncontrolled use of social media, it is vital to ensure that social media usage is regulated and controlled from the perspective of the social media companies rather than from the point of the individual users (Ferriter and Ramsden 145).

  Holding social media companies accountable for these posts that are threatening, hateful in nature can play a significant role in forcing them to implement measures and policies that aids in dealing with bullying in the society in the most effective manner. The current policies seem not being effectively implemented because the social media companies are not being held accountable for their actions, making them reluctant in implementing the policies. In conclusion, it is my strong belief that social media companies are supposed to be held accountable for cyber bullying so as to force them to put in place measures to control intimidating and threatening messages to victims of bullying in the future.