Taylor-made censorship – Does Instagram’s new tool jeopardise freedom of speech?

BIG Partnership senior social media manager, Lucia Fella, discusses the latest move by Instagram allowing Taylor Swift to hide negative comments and what this might mean for conversation on social media.

Unlike many around the globe, I have never watched an episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians.

However, I still find myself knowing an awful lot about the Kardashian-Jenner clan dubbed ‘America’s royal family’. As an avid social media user, it’s hard to avoid.

So too was the recent “spat” between Kanye West, Kim Kardashian and Taylor Swift over the former’s latest song. This led to a horde of social media fans bombarding Taylor Swift with abuse after she called out Kanye West and his wife for using her name in lyrics without permission.

For better or for worse, social media gives Joe Bloggs a voice. There have been many cases where questions have been asked over what constitutes free speech, even if it is offensive or uncomplimentary, and what could be regarded as a criminal offence. In 2010, accountant Paul Chambers jokingly tweeted that he was going to blow up Robin Hood Airport after his flight was cancelled, which led to his arrest and a subsequent two year legal battle to clear his name and in 2012, a student was jailed for posting offensive and racist comments on Twitter following footballer Fabrice Muamba’s on-pitch collapse. Opinion was divided on whether prosecution was right or wrong in these cases, even amongst the country’s top legal minds. Social media is evolving at a rapid pace and the law is struggling to keep up.

However, the latest development from Instagram, according to The Times, means that Taylor Swift has been granted access to a special tool that ‘removes’ negative comments. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not condoning trolls who abuse people online – I think it’s completely unwarranted. However, if you have the ability to delete others’ comments, where does the boundary end?

One of social media’s redeeming features is that it sparks debate and celebrates free speech, giving people a platform to share and engage with others. But this new tool gives influential people the right to decide what can and cannot be said. They are judge, jury and executioner on what they consider to be worthy of being shared on social media and what should be silenced. Engagement is what makes social media what it is. Without this, it’s just like any other traditional media – a one-way conversation.

While the example of Taylor Swift deleting snake emojis from her Instagram account may seem trivial, many throughout the ages have made enormous sacrifices in the quest for free speech. In a world that is constantly moving forward, this definitely feels like a step backwards.

Feel free to let me know your thoughts in the comments below, and don’t be afraid to disagree with me, as unlike Taylor I won’t delete them, I’ll just ‘shake it off’…