Facebook has been at the center of a plethora of issues related to user-generated content in regards to free speech. One perhaps less known case involves a user-generated poll back in 2009 titled, “Should Obama be Killed?” The poll had already been taken by over 700 people before it was pulled down by Facebook at the request of the Secret Service for harboring hatred and/or threats to the President. Soon after the poll came down, another poll was created asking “Should the creator of ‘Should Obama be killed?’ be arrested”?
More information can be found in this news article.
According to this BlackVoices article on the issue, “The pollster is actually a juvenile. Both the kid and his parents were questioned, and it was determined that no charges would be brought against the kid or his family. Secret Service spokesman Edwin Donovan has declared this “case closed.”"
It is interesting to note that Obama and his supporters may have successfully used social networking sites to reach out to many people on the Internet during his presidential campaign, but his haters and opponents can do quite the same thing since technology itself has no political allegiance. Technology is merely a tool, and is neither good nor bad, nor even neutral. Facebook appears to become an increasingly popular forum for hate speech, especially since the company has not found it easy to police the actions of more than 300 million members.
I’m sure this incident serves as a warning to many especially younger people that although we have the right to free speech, this freedom is definitely limited in many ways. The creator of the poll did not actually declare an opinion by the action of creating this poll, yet he still gets in trouble for having created the space and opportunity for others to declare their opinion. The poll creator is simply posing the question to others, yet he is automatically taken by the Secret Service as harboring threats to Obama. I think there is a bit of jumping to conclusions here… although it seems reasonable that the Secret Service takes any sort of suspicious free speech concerning the President very seriously.
It seems that Jack Balkin, author of the article “the Future of Free Expression in a Digital Age,” is right when he claims that the First Amendment is becoming harder to define and apply in the context of the Internet as more people embrace the Information Age. However, is creating a poll really considered “speech”? In addition, is the person who created the poll really any worse than the person who answered “yes” to the Obama poll? It appears that the Secret Service should also be investigating the people who answered “yes” to the poll… but the vastness and anonymity of the Internet makes it impossible to do so. According to Balkin, “It is very difficult to locate and sue people for their speech on the Internet.”