Are Social Media and Big Data Violating Civil Liberties?


Civil rights violations take many forms and often appear as legally valid actions taken by prosecutors or law enforcement officials.

Don't be fooled, however, by the surface appearance. Yes, police officers and law enforcement officers for various federal government agencies in the United States have many protections afforded to them by the federal courts, Congress, and the Supreme Court. But so do American citizens. The U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights guarantee each citizen under federal law equal rights and protections from abuse and misconduct by the police, local government, and federal agencies.

But as we saw in our recent article on the issue of Doxing, civil rights violations go well beyond the police brutality, employment discrimination and political rights protected under the First Amendment. In an era of technology dominated by a fast-paced virtual world of websites, social media channels, and a largely anonymous group of people engaging with each other, civil liberties do not stay protected as we often think they do. In fact human rights violations, sexual harassment, and hate crimes are rampant online.

Data analytics and social media have created new frontiers for discrimination and the boundaries are not yet established by any sort of federal agency or government agency. Many lawmakers have no real expertise in the area and come up short trying to figure out the complex online issues. The discussion will continue as society struggles to balance individual human rights, equal protection, and freedoms against public security and technological expansion. Online there is little to no due process.  A person's sexual orientation can be ridiculed to the point of that the harassment bleeds from virtual reality into actual reality.

Big Data and Civil Rights Violations

Big Data requires the analysis of large quantities of information with the results used to direct staffing processes, production decisions, marketing tactics and more. For several years the ACLU has expressed concern that analytics could be used for discriminatory purposes and recently the Federal Trade Commission released a report that concurred with this assessment. The FTC found that there is a pot for civil rights violations in areas including employment, housing, lending, and education. Discrimination can be based on race, gender, age, and other factors. In fact, a recent study found that Google Ads presented ads for high-paying jobs disproportionally to men over women. This is a relatively new field of analytics and the potential for civil rights violations is high.

While the FTC states it is committed to monitoring big data practices for violations of civil rights laws and to bring enforcement actions where appropriate, this will be a difficult process to manage. Companies must be aware of the subtle ways their analytics can result in discriminatory behavior and incorporate best practices to avoid these circumstances.


Social Media and Civil Rights Violations

Social media has had an immense impact on society. On the plus side, it has reshaped our education system, largely for the better. These platforms are used for study tips, encouragement and learning management systems. 

However, there's a dark side to what social media brings to the table. For instance, the social media platform, Yik Yak is the center of a civil rights violation discussion at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia and other campuses around the country. The platform Gab stepped in when alt-right figureheads like Alex Jones and Milo Yiannopoulos were banned from Twitter, giving them and their brand of fringe speech and outrage marketing a voice after most large social media platforms shut them down due to the hatred, controversy, and bullying that they and their mass of followers spread throughout channels like wildfire.

Both Gab and Yik Yak are havens for potential civil rights abuses online. Students have used this Yik Yak to post racist, misogynistic and homophobic comments and many believe that their actions violate several civil rights laws, including the Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. A few universities are blocking this and similar apps but some experts argue that colleges and universities can't block this type of speech and are not obligated to monitor these apps. 

Gab has become known as the Alt-Right Twitter, where accounts go to re-establish their dialog after Twitter — a platform itself known to be lax in administrating hate speech — takes action and finally bans them. And right now Twitter Support has come under fire from critics because their reporting system rules that were created to protect the sexual orientation of its users through the enforcement of penalties to people who misgendered the user, have been abused by users that found a loophole. Essentially a group of online trolls are using these rules to get their "online enemies" banned by Twitter by simply changing their pronouns, making a complete mockery of the entire system.

In short, hatred and civil rights violations online are rampant and evolving faster than most government agencies, let alone federal laws and state laws can keep pace with. The Office of Civil Rights has begun an investigation and it remains to be seen where social media comments will qualify as civil rights violations or be protected as freedom of speech.


Getting Help To Protect Your Civil Rights 

If you believe you have been the victim of a civil rights violation, you should call a lawyer for help. Civil rights are fundamental rights and there are plenty of safeguards in the US justice system designed to ensure that your rights are protected. As former prosecutors, Josh Scarpello and Pierre LaTour have experience working with and against the City of Philadelphia’s toughest lawyers. We offer experience inside and outside the courtroom that our clients can rely on.