Censorship vs. Activism on Social Media

A banned campaign on Tinder raised questions about censorship and the extent of free expression on social networks.

The internet can be a real minefield when it comes to social issues. Many users are willing to get very worked up in defense of the issues they care about and engage in online activism. However, discussion about touchy social issues can be difficult on social sites for other reasons including the policies laid out in terms of service and potential censorship.

Vice’s Motherboard blog recently reported about a campaign to raise awareness of domestic violence on Tinder was removed for “inappropriate images,” and “bad behavior.” The images featured women who appeared to have facial injuries. When the profiles received messages from other users, those users were directed to an advocacy website. An hour into the campaign on Tinder, the profiles behind the campaign were suspended.

Nina Bull Jørgensen, communications advisor for Plan International, told Motherboard in an interview:

We didn’t do it just to shock—no. We did it, in a way, to wake up people. In what way can we wake up people to see a reality that exists, and that is brutal? In world with freedom of expression we should be allowed to do that.

And that is where the problems seems to lie for many of these conversations: does freedom of speech apply on networks that are not considered a public forum? In many ways, the campaign could be viewed as deceptive advertising, and few would argue that Tinder isn’t allowed to remove non-sanctioned advertising on its network.

However, inflammatory topics can cause problems with abuse filters and algorithms as heated discussion takes place. Instagram restricted hashtags relating to Sandra Bland, the woman who was found dead in a police cell days after being arrested during a routine traffic stop, in an attempt to quell hate speech. The restriction was eventually lifted, but the ban likely stifled the discussion during its peak. Similarly there are concerns that attempts to stop the spread of ISIS propaganda may push legitimate newsworthy content off social networks entirely.

Free speech and social networks don’t always work together. User agreements often give social networks the right to pull any content they deem objectionable, and this seems to be the case with the campaign on Tinder. User agreements don’t make the distinction of worthy speech, or legally protected speech; they only serve as a roadmap for acceptable speech on the network.

And sometimes speech isn’t seen as acceptable on social, regardless of the intent of that content.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.