Internet management standard must fit national norms

By Wang Wenwen Source:Global Times Published: 2018/8/28 22:28:41

Facebook said Monday that it has blocked several Myanmar military officials from the social media platform to prevent the spread of "hate and misinformation." The move came hours after a UN report saying Myanmar's military carried out mass killings and gang rapes of Muslim Rohingya with "genocidal intent" and calling for prosecution of the commander-in-chief of Myanmar's armed forces and five generals.

It was the first time Facebook banned a country's military or political leaders. But debates on social media management are nothing new. They are under pressure from countries, organizations or even themselves to take greater responsibility for the content posted on their platforms.

From Myanmar to other parts of the world, inflammatory posts have sparked fierce discussion about how social media may be facilitating the spread of hate speech. The next questions are: What are the standards to regulate social media and who should set these standards?

Unfortunately, though social media are operated in a common virtual space, such standards vary from country to country. Social media are run by social beings. Therefore, they have an impact on society and they are also confined by certain social values.

International social media giants such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have been hailed as platforms of free speech, a concept the West values much. But hate speech, perhaps as old as free speech, also went relatively unchecked on these sites under the guise of free speech. That is where the paradox lies.

Another dilemma is: Different people hold different opinions. When one sticks to freedom of expression, what is expressed may actually be offensive to others. Meanwhile, racial, xenophobic or hateful content may not be prohibited by human rights advocates.

Likewise online materials deemed by one state as destabilizing may not be taken seriously by another. Differences between countries arise as understanding is subjective of worldviews and certain social values.

Western countries have their own set of rules to govern the digital sphere. So does China. They may be at odds with the ideas and beliefs that they uphold, but one thing in common is that they want to maintain social stability and prevent rumors and hatred from spiraling out of control. The fundamental goal of social media regulation is to prevent social unrest instead of filtering out all criticism of authorities, although each country has its own approaches. One should not impose its standards on another.

The scale of social media audiences is unprecedented. Social media have pushed us into an era of net-states. They have a lot of influence. But that influence has to be properly managed to maximize its functionality. It is a testament to the wisdom of each country as to how to regulate them.

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