A New Ice Age: Year of the “Snowflake”

The internet’s most frequented social media and user created content sites—Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Reddit—play a major role in news media, journalism, and broadcasting information to the masses. Because of the accessibility to obtain news, and also create news, an overabundance of sources exist spewing the latest stories. The combination of online personalization + exhaustive coverage creates so-called echo chambers of information.  These echo chambers uniquely sustain the ability of like-minded communities to exchange stories and ideals back and forth, reaffirming the group’s beliefs, and establishing ever more dangerous “alternative facts.” These echo chambers may also perpetuate hate speech (racist, misogynistic , xenophobic or other discriminatory verbiage), with their the safety in numbers and added veil of anonymity.

Social media cites may have some moral duty to hedge echo chambers, but there is no legal requirement to do so. There is also no legal prohibition against internet service providers (ISPs) censoring hate speech within echo chambers, even if popular consensus is to shout “FREE SPEECH” at every instance of web censoring. But, the First Amendment protects individuals from governmental censorship, not from private businesses implementing user policies—that is a business’s own right to freedom of expression.

There is clear justification for ISPs creating content policies, like “The Twitter Rules,” that aim to curb hate speech by use of enforcement systems that remove content or block users entirely: the internet should not allow free range for inciting violence, making private life public, or promoting hateful rhetoric. The flip side argues that by coddling users, in addition to the pre-existing echo chambers, a special new sensitivity has emerged, and with that a special new term: the snowflake.  The argument follows, because “snowflakes” live in a bubble of information, which reiterates their own personal beliefs, while censoring out “disagreeing” content (i.e. the hate speech), these groups become overly sensitive. When snowflakes are exposed to the real world, they are offended by everything and anything, encouraging broader censorship, thereby threatening free speech. Going forward it is difficult to say how ISPs will respond, but the eradication of echo chambers seems like a wise start.


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