For the longest time, social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram were viewed as places where people are freely express themselves. Those platforms were used to exchange ideas and connect with others. Even Facebook’s mission early on was “to make the world more open and connected” (Haidt & Rose, 2019). There was a time when you could make a post and not suffer much repercussions. Social media was a place to have fun and communicate with people outside of physical reach. Fast forward today, social media platforms are no longer a good place for democracy. With the rise of fake news, political and social opinions, social media is becoming messy and less of a democratic space. In particular, Twitter is a huge offender in this aspect. Twitter’s rise to becoming the “de Facto newswire for the planet” (Naughton, 2013), its tightening regulations, and its ties to political campaigns are contributing to the decline of social media as platforms for democracy.
Due to its reach and accessibility, Twitter is becoming a lot of people’s number one place for news. Twitter is widely available. There are no pay walls and people without accounts can still view the content (with limitations). We are at a point where even government uses Twitter to “release breaking news before they give it to mainstream media” (Naughton, 2013). Think of NBA free agency day. Typically, any signings get posted on Twitter first before it makes its way onto the sports platforms such as ESPN. With Twitter’s increasing presence in the news space, it is also becoming a place for fake news. Fake news destroys democracy. It makes it difficult for people to have a safe place to exchange ideas and express themselves.
As seen with Donald’s Trump use of Twitter, it is clear that social media is becoming a political tool. A lot of political campaigns are run through Twitter. Political influence is another factor for that contributes to the loss of democracy on social media platforms. You have both sides of the political spectrum manipulating posts and causing confusion amongst users of the platform. You have the far-right group that attempts to spread lies and deceit and the far-left group that attempts to cancel any ideology that differs from their own. The amount of disinformation and distrust have caused Twitter to “ban political ads” late last year (Yaraghi, 2020). While the ban may help reduce the spread of disinformation and fake news, it also hurts small politicians and candidates. Twitter is a place where they can share their ideology and opinions for free or at a low cost. Now, they lose this option because of the misuse by political parties, users, and Twitter themselves.
Censorship is another big concern in social media. Twitter has the power to ban users and deny them their right to speak and have a voice. They can restrict what you can and cannot see or do. Social media platforms have a lot of power over political topics. In particular, Twitter uses their “trends” function to show popular topics being discussed. They can easily manipulate these trends and show you what they want you to see. Misuse of such trends can lead people into a false direction. Twitter says that they are “committed to enforcing our rules without bias and empowering every voice on our platform, in accordance with the Twitter Rules” (Letaru, 2018). However, they are never transparent with their moderation policies. The company would never respond when asked for document regarding their guides and policies. Without transparent policies, it is hard to justify Twitter’s reason for taking down posts. It is hard to justify whether Twitter has a bias toward a certain political or social group. How can a platform be a democratic place if conflicting views against the company gets removed?
Social media and Twitter in particular, are no longer good places for democracy. The current political and social environment along with tightening censorship from tech companies are making it difficult for people to freely exchange ideas and express themselves. How can one feel confident expressing themselves and exchanging ideas with others if they cannot be heard due to censorship or are the recipient of fake news?
Haidt, J., & Rose-Stockwell, T. (2019, November 12). The Dark Psychology of Social Networks. The Atlantic. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2019/12/social-media-democracy/600763/
Naughton, J. (2013, September 14). Twitter and the transformation of democracy | John Naughton. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/sep/14/twitter-flotation-facebook-politics-social-network
Leetaru, K. (2018, January 12). Is Twitter Really Censoring Free Speech? Forbes. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/kalevleetaru/2018/01/12/is-twitter-really-censoring-free-speech/
Yaraghi, N. (2020, January 08). Twitter’s ban on political advertisements hurts our democracy. Brookings. Retrieved from https://www.brookings.edu/blog/techtank/2020/01/08/twitters-ban-on-political-advertisements-hurts-our-democracy/