Experts analyze social media role in D.C. riots, free speech

Published: Jan. 12, 2021 at 12:09 AM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) -As plywood covers the windows of the State Capitol and Wisconsin braces for the possibility of violence, experts said social media helped create this atmosphere.

“Information is very powerful, disinformation is very powerful,” Anwar Floyd-Pruitt, social media user said. “All tools can be dangerous right.”

Social media platforms allow users to access information and communication at their fingertips. It’s a tool that can be used for harm or good.

“People should be able to speak openly about what they care about and what’s important to them,” Rachel Tenenbaum, social media user said.

She said it’s a different story if a post puts someone’s life at risk.

Steve Noll, Madison College digital marketing professor, agrees.   

“It is a potentially powerful tool. It can be used in a very unethical and dangerous way,” Noll said.

He explained just about anyone can get on social media, but everyone has to read the fine print and follow it.   

“The terms of agreement clearly said you cannot use this for hate speech or any type of invoking anything illegal,” he said.

He said social media companies are within their rights to pull the plug on your account if you break those terms.

“Not following the rules gets you kicked out of the game,” Noll said.   

“The First Amendment does not mean that you get to say whatever you want, whenever you want,” Michele LaVigne, retired UW-Madison emeritus distinguished clinical professor of law said.

“You do not have the right to yell ‘fire’ in a crowded theater, when there’s no fire, because you’ve just caused a stampede,” LaVigne said.

She explained if a message posted on social media causes harm, consequences can follow.   

“If you do and harm is caused, they can punish you and that is not a violation of the First Amendment,” she said.

The experts mentioned social media companies need to do more in flagging false information and deleting accounts with a sense of urgency so these things don’t happen.

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