El Rancho High School

Freedom of speech on social media taken too far?

In recent years, social media has become one of the most popular outlets for expressing opinions, thoughts, feelings, etc., in which there are almost no boundaries to what can or cannot be posted. As the popularity of this platform grows, so do the number of users that exercise their “freedom of speech” on a regular basis.

More and more teenagers are given free range on social media. According to the Pew Research Center’s Teens, Social Media & Technology Report, 92% of teenagers in the U.S. go online daily, and 33% of teens have access to a Twitter account.

Social media gives the youth of the Internet a platform on which to stand in the world. Teenagers can say whatever they want, for good or for worse, and they will be heard.

However, one can only ask: is this copious amount of power becoming a problem?

Many students in high school are familiar with accounts, more than often anonymous, made to “expose” the secrets of their peers. A well-known local account would be “SoCal Confessions.” This site had been made for the sole purpose of sending in confessions or pictures about people in their school, regardless of credibility, to be posted on Twitter, along with a caption of their school name.

Students may not see this as a problem, but this isn’t something that only happens within high schools. Social media users are beginning to see celebrities and politicians hop onto this “trend” of posting outlandish remarks without proof. Just check out Donald Trump’s Twitter account for an example.

Claiming the right to freedom of speech is becoming the most popular way to back up controversial or, “problematic,” posts on the Internet. However, not everyone is accepting that answer anymore.

“Just because you have freedom of speech doesn’t give you an excuse to be rude and hurtful,” says junior, Isabel Gonzalez, “like, that’s on you.”

Their First Amendment rights may back social media users, but is it becoming an abuse of power?

“Oh, I think it is, because just comments, people tend to make up phony names, and they log on and they can just bash anybody, and people will believe it,” says El Rancho teacher and Twitter user, Carlos Melgar, “once it’s out there, it’s up there forever, whether it’s true or not, and some people get hurt.”

There are many better alternatives to express one’s self when it comes to social media. Often, people tend to choose the route that gives them the power to say anything without consequence.

“If you can’t say anything to somebody’s face then you shouldn’t put it online,” says teacher and co-manager of the ERHS Twiter account, Phillip Rojo, “You know, that’s a good rule of thumb.”

Even after coming to terms with this information, what can be done about it? Is there a solution, and if so, what?

Rojo and El Rancho teacher, Claire Stubendorff, both seem to believe there’s a chance at fixing the problem at hand.

“I think the first thing is, you have to call people out when they do it,” says Rojo, “Step two begins with educating students and parents and teachers and the community about, you know, what is appropriate.  Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should and when you do say something, you know, you’re accountable for your actions.”

Rojo also believes that retweeting posts without pointing out what is wrong, is another issue that needs to be addressed. “I’ve seen a lot of people put in their bios: ‘a retweet is not a[n] endorsement’ but,” he laughs, “it kind of is.”

“I think the solution is kind of, the evolution of the teenager,” says Stubendorff, taking a different approach, “I see now, even more in your generation, the intellectual awareness comments like ‘I defriended that person because all they post is stupid stuff about stupid people, so I need to block that out of my life.’ So you guys are doing censorship already on your own, where previous generations didn’t have that skill because they didn’t have to do it.”

Social media is always going to be here. No matter how many accounts are suspended, no matter how many Tweets are deleted, nothing will ever truly change. That is, unless, people starts assessing these issues head on, on their own. If you see a “problematic” post, don’t be afraid to speak out.