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This Critical Debate is part of a Debate Comparison:

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Duration
30-60 minutes
Topic(s)
  • Constitution
  • Current Events
Grade(s)
  • 7-12
  • College/University

THE CASE

You are an executive at a social media company based in the United States. Your job is to help the company develop policies about what users are allowed to post and when your company may censor content. This includes working with international governments to create policies that try to balance your company’s interest in freedom of expression with each country’s specific laws about what speech is or isn’t allowed.

You’ve been working with Vietnam, a country in Southeast Asia, to expand access to your social media platform. The country’s communist government grants its citizens very limited rights to free speech, and speech critical of officials and laws is rarely allowed. The government wants your company to help block these types of speech. Government officials have been regularly filing review requests with your company to remove certain content. They often claim the content is fake, but this is not always the case. Your company reviews the requests and complies with some of them.

Some Vietnamese citizens who have heard about the way your company is working with the government are upset. Activists, citizen journalists and independent media groups have joined forces and published an open letter to your company’s chief executive. The letter argues that your company’s policies on content unfairly target journalists and citizen activists. It demands that you revise your content moderation policies in Vietnam to help promote public dialogue, even if it is critical of the government.

In other nearby countries, misinformation posted on social media has led to violent protests and attacks. The Vietnamese government is pressuring you to crack down even more on content it says is fake and harmful to avoid similar violence. You know that ignoring the government’s requests could make it harder for your company to expand in Vietnam, but you also worry about supporting its censorship efforts.

Should you keep cooperating with the government’s requests to remove certain content?

  1. Yes. Your policies should reflect the laws of the countries where you operate.

    There’s no First Amendment in Vietnam, and it’s not up to you to promote free speech in countries where it does not exist. If you don’t cooperate, the government might shut down your site, and then people would have even fewer places to share ideas.

  2. No. Going along with even some of these requests puts you on a slippery slope.

    Once you’ve censored some content, it may become easier to censor more and more. All citizens deserve to be able to post and engage freely on your social media platform, regardless of whether their government wants to censor certain ideas.

  • The First Amendment does not apply outside of the United States. How does free expression work in a world where speech crosses borders instantly?
  • What type of content should always be protected on social media platforms? Never protected?
  • Do you think national governments should be able to dictate what content citizens can see on social media sites?
  • Should users have a say in what kind of content is allowed on social media platforms?
  • Do social media companies have an obligation to promote free speech in countries where there is none?
  • Should your company attempt to verify if content is indeed fake before blocking or removing it? If so, how?
  • Should social media platforms bear some responsibility for content that leads to criminal or violent behavior?
  • Compare today’s social media to the “town square” of the past. Is this where important conversation and dialogue are happening today? Does it deserve the same free speech protections? Why or why not?

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