The gray area between free speech and hate speech | The Triangle

The gray area between free speech and hate speech

Photo by Anushka Khandelwal | The Triangle

A few weeks ago, my friend introduced me to the Fizz App, a platform where users  anonymously post their ramblings and inner monologues with little to no ramifications. These monologues range from university- or facility-related rants to relationship issues. What I thought would be a quick 5-10 minute scroll session turned into doom scrolling for several hours, eventually drifting off to sleep. It had been weeks since I found myself this amused by text on a screen. 

Similar to YikYak, on Fizz, anyone can register with their university and begin posting without any connection to their name or image. As a result, this enables people to post whatever they please. Moderators do exist, but they are simply student volunteers who abide by community guidelines, and posts violating such are not always removed. In a way, I think the concept is great: students are able to express crude humor and vent about their issues, of course making for a delightful scrolling session. 

The issues arise when the platform is used for cyberbullying or more heinous purposes. In light of the encampment at Drexel, I noticed an increase in posts expressing sentiments on both sides of the issue. Alongside this were tense conversations and proposals of more divisive arguments along either side. The encampment being Pro Palestine brought forth a plethora of intense posts from those in disagreement who sided with the response from Drexel University. 

I believe the uptake in combative posts was caused by the general narratives around campus the posters were experiencing. People postulate that cyberbullying is more severe in countries and societies where there is higher emphasis on in-person politeness and conformity. For that same reason, students may have felt pigeonholed to accept either belief system. Hence, Fizz served as the only platform which made them feel safe to express their opinions. 

As a result, this fosters the gray area between free speech and cyberbullying. Would it be more ethical to enable people to speak at free will, or prevent discussions completely by increasing Fizz moderation? This seems to be one of many issues where either decision would leave a large proportion of the student body dissatisfied. Perhaps more in-depth community guidelines or active moderation could help curtail the issues presented, but ultimately this may only provide a band-aid solution, as users could simply migrate to the next anonymous discussion platform.