The Tweet Stops Right Here
Twitter and Facebook suspended Trump’s accounts. It’s the right thing to do, albeit more than four years too late, and yet still truly disturbing.
by Tim Leberecht
Wikipedia CEO Katherine Maher tweeted: “It must be satisfying to de-platform fascists. Even more satisfying: not platforming them in the first place.”
Indeed, when social media companies suddenly pretend to discover their conscience, like those Trump-enabling Republican leaders — from Betsy DeVos to Mitch McConnell — who are jumping ship after it has sunk, it feels like becoming a vegan after the chickens have come home to roost.
Moreover, Twitter’s and Facebook’s drastic actions are proof of the unwieldy power these companies have amassed. And as much as I welcome their using it now, it also makes me extremely uncomfortable. The line between freedom of speech and amplifying extremism will always be a moving goalpost. Inside Facebook, there is a lot of debate about why the company would suspend Trump but not authoritarians in other countries who spread lies and incite violence, too.
In March 2008, I was in the room when the infamous “trainwreck” interview with Mark Zuckerberg at SXSW was eclipsed by the simultaneous live commentary of a Twittermob. It gave me the shivers. The ugly monster of social media had shown its face, and it was a precursor of things to come. A little more than a year later, on May 4, 2009, Trump posted his first tweet.
Let’s face it: Social media has become a key factor in the growing polarization of our societies. Robb Smith, CEO of Integrated Life, wrote: “We’ve built a 24-hour, always-on, mass-personalized radicalization greenhouse.”
Can the right message help us transcend the medium? Marshall McLuhan would have been skeptical: “The content or message of any particular medium has about as much importance as the stenciling on the casing of an atomic bomb.”
And yet, we have no choice but to make social media beautiful (again). This is not just a matter of regulation, but perhaps even more so, a matter of changing the culture of social media. It is not just a matter of de-platforming the platforms (for which it might be too late already anyway), it is a matter of de-weaponizing our own free speech.
Firebrand tweets lead to firebrand politics, no matter which side you’re on.
How can we speak out without shouting in all caps? How can we make sure that it’s not about the cheap win, the wittiest, most sarcastic tweet?
Can we do better than bemoaning the consequences of narcissist leadership in selfie-videos on Instagram? How can we be complicated instead of being complicit whenever an online mob demands conformism?
And if they are not intrinsic, then what are the right extrinsic incentives we need as we all seek to strengthen our ever so volatile personal brands?
A functioning civic cannot be engineered. A healthy conversation is not an algorithm.
The tweet stops right here. With us.
Ps. On this topic, check out the New Public Festival from January 12–14. Its proposition — “Meeting each other in digital public space can be magical” — could not be timelier.
This article orignally appeared in the Journal of Beautiful Business.