The question of whether social media truly serves a platform for various voices is still debated today. Some argue that too much freedom is provided whereas some argue that our voices are silenced through censorship. Who do social media companies prioritize, and do our followers and likes determine our personal online value? After considering the polar sides, I’ve come to consider that social media platforms provide a democratic environment to a certain extent due to companies’ personal motives. We can witness both sides through the impact of social media on large movements all while tolerating users that go against terms and conditions due to their high following. Not only are the companies itself flawed, but users tend to manipulate their democratic power to slander individuals publicly for their supposed faults.
During peak lockdown times in 2020, the internet grew interest in social issues and noticed the power of their voice on social media platforms. By one click you hold the power to spread your own thoughts and message to users either opposing or for your narrative. This grand impact was evident during the Black Lives Matter movement that blew up after the murder of George Floyd by a white police officer. Videos of the murder broadcasted around the internet, reminding many of the systemic racism and police brutality that still occurs in our modern progressive world (Hu, 2020). Hashtags, informational posts, accounts, all dedicated to the movement spread like wildfire and caught the eyes of many furious protestors ready to fight for justice. Kretschmer, a specialist in social movements, observed that social media holds the same if not greater impact that televisions held during the Civil Rights Movement, (Granillo, 2020). The difference that social media holds is that the images and text are longer lasting, keeping the discussions on social movements prevalent over time. The power of individuals’ voices on social media was so strong that Derek Chauvin, the police officer that murdered Floyd had been sentenced to 22 years in prison. Unlike the BLM movement, the only issue with online democracy is that users tend to put more energy into publishing opinions and spreading awareness than actively fighting for conflicts in the real world. Although this habit needs to change, it doesn’t negate the fact that social media does somewhat provide a democratic environment through the visible change we have noticed in the past few years.
On the sensationalist side of publishing, recent tabloids have highlighted Kanye West’s outlashes against his ex-wife’s new boyfriend. Despite the constant verbal harassment against numerous celebrities, Kanye has yet to be banned on Instagram while I’ve had posts taken down for sarcastically captioning “I hate my friends.” The reason is simple yet frustrating; companies garner more app usage time when large influences in media are facing controversies. Kanye’s outlash is entertaining which consequently leads us to scrolling on the app longer, meaning more advertisements being watched, leading to Instagram getting paid more. This situation mirrored a familiar case of Trump in the past years. Despite his notable negligence for basic humanity, his marketing team was intelligent and knew how to build Trump’s persona through Twitter in a way that made his followers feel special, (Bickart, 2017). Trump’s random outlashes whether it be political or simply opinions on recent drama, he publicly shared his thoughts online which broke a barrier between the differences in status. Thus, he doubled in his following and Twitter was slower than ever to deactivate his account for bullying. They stated that world leaders’ accounts may stay despite breaking policies if they have a clear public interest value, (Ziady, 2019). This statement has no valid line between what is right or wrong. Trump’s outlandish tweets will always be of interest to the public as they are controversial and easy to mock, which thus spreads the tweets further and pushes rivals to use twitter for longer. Twitter’s excuse only reveals their own interest in growing their company and highlighting the voices of those in power, thus diminishing the idea of social media being a complete democratic environment.
Overall, I find the debate of social media’s freedom quite conflicting and contradictory at times. Although we are given the platform to express ourselves and share personal opinions, those in power are looked over for misbehaviour online. Companies at the end of the day prioritize money and growth which means placing celebrities on a pedestal. If we were truly given a democratic environment, our voices would be prioritized equally. On the opposing side, we have observed many remarkable changes in our world due to the power behind individuals’ voices online, as discussed; the BLM movement in 2020. Social issues and its awareness have spread and minorities struggles are recognized due to the potential power provided by online platforms. To say that social media is one or the other isn’t possible and will never be until companies lose their personal motives to drive numbers at any chance they get.
Nast, Condé. “The Second Act Of Social-Media Activism”. The New Yorker, 2022, https://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/the-second-act-of-social-media-activism.
Granillo, Gabriel. “The Role Of Social Media In Social Movements”. Portland Monthly, 2022, https://www.pdxmonthly.com/news-and-city-life/2020/06/the-role-of-social-media-in-social-movements.
Bickart, Barbara et al. “What Trump Understands About Using Social Media To Drive Attention”. Harvard Business Review, 2022, https://hbr.org/2017/03/what-trump-understands-about-using-social-media-to-drive-attention.
Ziady, Hanna. “Twitter Explains Why It Hasn’t Suspended Trump’s Account”. CNN, 2019, https://www.cnn.com/2019/10/16/tech/twitter-trump-rules/index.html.