Is depoliticizing social media a solution to tackling misinformation?

Screenshots of the Parler app from the App Store can be seen on an iPhone in this photo illustration in Warsaw, Poland, January 10, 2021 / Getty

Screenshots of the Parler app from the App Store can be seen on an iPhone in this photo illustration in Warsaw, Poland, January 10, 2021 / Getty

Publisher’s Note: Bradley Blankenship is a Prague-based American journalist, political analyst, and freelance reporter. The article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

Following the events of January 6, when radicalized supporters of former US President Donald Trump stormed the US Capitol to dismiss the November presidential election results on blatantly false allegations of fraud, social media platforms had to make difficult decisions about how manage its content to maintain public safety.

Twitter, for example, deleted tens of thousands of right-wing conspiracy accounts and even banned Trump himself when he was president. This exposed the sheer power that social media giants have and questioned whether they should be allowed to unilaterally wield that power, especially if it is only used in some cases and not in others.

Top government agencies around the world, from the U.S. Senate to the European Commission, have alarmed the dangers of social media and its business model for basic institutions. This has even been the subject of widespread books and documentaries for the general public. After so much has already been said and experienced, there is now an almost unanimous, non-partisan consensus in the US and a strong international multilateral basis to curb big tech about its real consequences.

As seen in Twitter’s controversial actions against Trump and his supporters, social media giants are opting for self-regulation instead over fears of government interference and a blow to their bottom line.

In asking Facebook to earn in the fourth quarter, its CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the social media giant would start reducing the amount of political content on its platform, and even said there were some groups which he didn’t even want to be on Facebook if they didn’t hurt [Facebook’s] Guidelines. “

Zuckerberg added that “one of the most important feedback we are currently hearing from our community is that people don’t want politics and struggles to take over their experience of our services.”

Although Facebook has publicly stated that platforms other than Facebook were largely responsible for organizing the Capitol Mob’s conversations to be organized, widespread public posts – including live streams – indicate that this is inaccurate. According to a May report in the Wall Street Journal, Facebook has long benefited from mass exposure to questionable content, and top executives have even discontinued studies aimed at reducing the divide on the platform.

While everyone knows that something needs to be done, going in the opposite direction, i.e. total depoliticization, is really the answer?

Facebook chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg testifies remotely during the Senate Justice Committee hearing on “Breaking the News: Censorship, Oppression, and the 2020 Election” in Washington, DC on November 17, 2020. / Getty

Facebook chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg testifies remotely during the Senate Justice Committee hearing on “Breaking the News: Censorship, Oppression, and the 2020 Election” in Washington, DC on November 17, 2020. / Getty

First of all, Zuckerberg has already revealed exactly how this would affect Facebook by essentially saying that the platform’s guidelines wouldn’t play a role in deciding what content to fetch. It clearly shows that his preference for deciding what is political and what isn’t is the new norm for content, which basically makes him one of the most powerful political decision-makers in the world.

Facebook, like Google’s parent company Alphabet, has a two-class share structure that allows company executives to access class B shares with 10 votes each. Zuckerberg alone owns almost 90 percent of these shares, which gives him effective control over the entire company and its editorial decisions.

It would be great to think that Zuckerberg or any other tech manager could know what is best for the world, but it is just impossible, and even trying to put that power in the hands of a few people would be the liberal Contradict western values.

While the internet has its downside, it has led to an inherently democratic feature of modern society, namely the fact that it has created unprecedented accountability for governments and businesses. It is extremely difficult now for corruption or official missteps to go unnoticed as people around the world become increasingly connected. For example, the internet has been one of the biggest drivers of the Black Lives Matter.

People also come in direct contact with first-hand information about places they could never have managed through social media, alleviating some of the issues related to editorial controls in traditional media. For example, in the 21st century, it would be much more difficult to have another Cold War scenario where global internet users can virtually freely interact and share experiences whenever they want.

Basically, there is a serious potential for the average citizen to advance society through the use of social media. Equating this with the disinformation campaigns and hateful content that fuel right-wing violence is simply a false comparison and would throw the baby out in the bathwater. We cannot allow QAnon and real intellectual diffusion to be put in the same “politics” basket just to save big tech from much-deserved regulation.

(If you would like to contribute and have specific expertise, please contact us at opinion@cgtn.com.)

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