Conspiracy theories and freedom of speech in the online sphere : An analysis of QAnon’s ban from Facebook and Twitter

University essay from Uppsala universitet/Teologiska institutionen

Abstract: At the crossroads of law, conspiracy theory research and philosophy, this thesis investigates the permanent ban of QAnon from Facebook and Twitter, determining whether their deplatforming constitutes a violation of free speech. By first conducting a content analysis of free speech legislation in Germany and the US, it becomes evident that the matter needs to be approached from an ethical perspective rather than a legal one. To this end, I am testing an ethical framework suggested by Cíbik and Hardoš (2020). Based on the concept of ethical unreasonableness, the framework will be used to determine whether QAnon is harmful and its ban was justified. The case study consists of an in-depth analysis of QAnon’s evolution, distribution and core narratives in Germany and the US, followed by an examination of Facebook and Twitter’s justifications for deplatforming all QAnon assets. The ethical framework will then be applied to selected QAnon narratives based on their prevalence in the time from February 2020 to February 2021. It becomes clear that the ethical framework at hand needs to be adjusted and is unsuitable for everyday content moderation but should still be used by the social media companies for training purposes to improve decision making. The question of whether deplatforming QAnon was a violation of free speech is not easily answered as depending on the point of view it is or is not a violation of freedom of speech. Ultimately, big social media companies need to be redefined as to their role and responsibilities in today’s societies before any content moderation measures can be adequately examined.

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