The Danger of Social Media in the Balance of Democracy

Social Media BELatina Latinx

While Twitter tries to make President Donald Trump understand that his word is not law, and that he must adhere to the rules of digital “coexistence,” other platforms such as Facebook have been the breeding ground for the resurgence of a dangerous right-wing trend.

As Vanity Fair explains in its analysis, Jack Dorsey’s decision to finally label some of Trump’s comments on Twitter as “potentially misleading,” and to label others as “glorifying violence” messages, was counterbalanced by Mark Zuckerberg’s decision to assume “he is not the arbiter of free speech” and allow the vast harvest of conspiracy theories and right-wing groups on his platform.

For those of us who decided to leave Facebook after the Cambridge Analytica scandal — where the platform joined forces with the information firm to collect user data without their consent in early 2018 and make them the largest political advertising machine in the world — this is nothing new.

For several years now, the Facebook feed has not spoken to the desire for plurality and massification of information, but rather functions as a platform for hate speech based on little knowledge of facts and history.

An example of this was the private Facebook group made up of Border Patrol agents discovered in July 2019, where government officials made fun of detained immigrants and congressional representatives like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

With the emergence of mass anti-racist protests over George Floyd’s death at the hands of the police, the debate over the true role of social media and the threat that it poses to democracy is once again opening up.

New York Times tech columnist Kevin Roose regularly lists trends on Facebook every 24 hours, and constantly highlights the prevalence of conservative and racist themes, including Fox News and Ben Shapiro, according to Vanity Fair.

Echoing this have been the protests and resignations of Facebook employees in retaliation for the platform’s partisan policies, which speak to a general view of freedom of opinion.

In February 2020, the Washington Post recalled Facebook’s fateful “Project P” during the 2016 election, highlighting it as a curtain to “protect professional relationships” and warning against the random use of the right to free expression on social networks.

“I think Facebook is looking at their political advertising policies in explicitly partisan terms, and they’re afraid of angering Republicans,” said Alex Stamos, head of the Stanford Internet Observatory, a research group, and a former Facebook chief security officer, to the Post. “The Republicans in the D.C. office see themselves as a bulwark against the liberals in California.”

Former employees of the technology giant have confirmed this.

“Facebook does not speak Republican,” said a former employee of Facebook’s Integrity Team, which was created to ensure safety and trust on the platform, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak freely about a former employer. “This is what they know about Republicans: Tell them ‘yes’ or they will hurt us.”

For their part, other platforms such as LinkedIn, where the president does not have a large presence, have made it clear that they will not allow the spread of hate messages on their networks.

“If a leader were to make a statement on our platform that violated our rules about inciting violence, then we would take action. We’d restrict the speech,” said in a diversity roundtable video conference with employees LinkedIn senior VP and general counsel Blake Lawit.

This seems to debunk the myth of the neutrality of the digital algorithm, and brings to the table the realization that racism and white supremacy are human issues — not machine issues — and that if the Facebook-Twitter antagonism has proven anything, it is that as long as there are users, speech will remain a right-or-left-wing issue.