The evolution and advancement in modern technology is progressively changing how we interact and communicate with each other. Social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram were not intended to be damaging or corrupt, but some experts say they are headed in that direction. 

In the Netflix documentary “The Social Dilemma,” Stanford Internet Observatory Research Manager Renee DiResta said, “Platforms make it possible to spread manipulative narratives with phenomenal ease without very much money.”

 Last year, anyone who posted claims that COVID-19 was “man-made or manufactured” could have seen their posts removed or restricted on Facebook. Repeatedly sharing these allegations could have led to a ban from the site entirely. Facebook initially claimed it was protecting consumers from misinformation but  later softened its stance. 

 “In light of ongoing investigations into the origin of COVID-19 and in consultation with public health experts, we will no longer remove the claim that COVID-19 is man-made from our apps. We’re continuing to work with health experts to keep pace with the evolving nature of the pandemic and regularly update our policies as new facts and trends emerge,” Facebook said in a statement on its website.

While Facebook said it was combating misinformation, others would say the company was in the business of silencing views that it deemed to be problematic. 

A recent survey conducted by The Franklin surveyed 67 students and faculty at Franklin College regarding their opinions on misinformation and freedom of expression. They were contacted through a social messaging app called GroupMe. Many of the participants received the link to the survey in a student group chat with over 600 members. 

Looking at the survey as well as students’ reactions to the data shows the diversity of thought found throughout campus. In the first poll question, a large majority of students agree that silencing views and opinions that you don’t agree with is problematic. 

“I think censorship is the foundation of tyranny. The best way to express ideas is to have public discourse and trash the bad ideas while keeping the good ones,” sophomore Dillion Collins said. “You can’t trash the bad ideas and keep the good ones if no one’s allowed to say their ideas are good or bad.”

The question on the survey involving how cautious students are while interacting with faculty, peers and professors because of cancel culture had the lowest amount of consensus.

Cancel culture refers to when people condemn others when their current or past comments or actions surface. For celebrities, this can mean a loss of support from their audience. A recent example includes the backlash J.K Rowling received after making comments about transgender people.  Other instances are the exposure of Chrissy Teigen’s cyberbullying and Ellen DeGeneres’s toxic work environment.

Some students feel they have to be attentive with how they talk to teachers and peers in the midst of cancel culture, while others say they aren’t concerned.

“I’m surprised at the amount of student variety on this question. I would have fallen in the ‘A little’ portion because I don’t feel I’m paranoid about cancel culture,” said junior Andrea Rahman. 

Junior Jason Brown agreed with the majority of students who are concerned about cancel culture. “I have problems with my communication skills,” Brown said. “Sometimes I say things I don’t mean, so I’m always on edge.” 

But students can agree on some things. The majority of people said that social media sites should bear the responsibility of identifying and banning misinformation.

 Twitter’s platform has helped people on both sides of the political spectrum exercise their First Amendment right to freedom of assembly. Causes such as Black Lives Matter protests, the Jan. 6 Capitol Hill insurrection, as well as the recent protest involving Canadian truckers and the vaccine mandate known as the “Freedom Convoy’’ all gained traction on the site.

Freshman Tivon Wiley said, “Social media platforms have an obligation to take down misinformation and stuff that is not factually based.”

Sophomore Zayne Spangler said privately owned businesses and entities should have some dominion over their platforms. 

“It is their own company, so they get to determine what goes on their site, but on the other hand if they are advertising it as a free speech site and it’s not hateful content it should be on the platform,” Spangler said. “You don’t have to watch it if you don’t like it or agree with it. Content shouldn’t just be banned.” 

And most of those surveyed said people shouldn’t be censored. 

Joe Rogan and Alex Jones are podcasters that have large platforms. Some say that censorship of their material would be in the best interest of society, especially with conspiracy theories, drug use and COVID-19 at the forefront of conversation.  

“Man, I’m surprised though. I thought this [those who said the figures should be censored] was going to be a lot higher than it was, especially with extremely polarizing figures and college students,” said Junior T.J. Cox. 

An overwhelming majority of those surveyed think it’s the individual’s responsibility to determine when speech qualifies as misinformation.

Freshman Gage Deiser noted that there was a major difference in the way people regarded big tech companies, depending on the question. 

James Parham is a public relations professor at Franklin College. He teaches a class regarding social media strategy and tactics and is president and CEO of the Indianapolis public relations firm Hirons. Regarding accountability for misinformation, Parham said people consume misinformation because it’s entertaining.

“Following legitimate news sources is one thing, but I think people read into the drama, innuendo and rumor. I mean, they just suck that up. It’s sort of human nature to have this curiosity and if it’s wrong it should come down, but I don’t think that’s happening.” 

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