That question needs to be answered within the context of whether or not people who continue to listen to outgoing United States president Donald Trump and even heed his public calls actually have a collective grievance that needs to be responded to. As it stands, it is likely that blocking Trump would be the equivalent of putting a lid on a cauldron that is boiling over. What is more important to consider is what to do about the fire underneath that cauldron.
Is Trump the fire that brought many Americans to a boiling point today? Or was that fire burning long before Trump even considered the American presidency back in the lead up to the 2016 presidential elections? This is the real question Americans need to answer.
Like it or not, social media was the new battlefield for competing ideas. It was a place where the best communicators and most wily influencers win. Like it or not, it was also a place where the human condition was being put to the test — specifically the test of whether our individual cognitive faculties were up to the task of evaluating these competing ideas in a Darwinian landscape far purer than the old order of news cycles and bureaucratic “editorial oversight” that the Internet had made utterly obsolete.
That our intellect was seen to have failed on the earlier — the social media landscape — is now largely a given. However what is not highlighted as much is the fact that our intellects hadn’t seen any proud moments over media landscapes that preceded social media either. Think traditional print media and radio broadcast media, the earlier with its multi-thousand year history and the latter with its just over a hundred year history. These were landscapes where ideas ascended to dominance on the back of interests that controlled the technologies of the time — printing presses and radio transmitters — and the organisations that cleverly employed these technologies — publishing houses, organised religion, advertising and marketing agencies and broadcast networks.
Imagine then, the book burnings instigated by one organised religion or the other over centuries, or the race to monopolise the airwaves perpetrated by media barons in the last 100 years in various countries. An outrage by today’s standards, right? So how then is Twitter and Facebook, now acting as both owners of information dissemination technology and infrastructure and authorities on what information or ideas should be allowed to propagate over these assets any different from, say, the Inquisition, or, in latter times, the BBC in the United Kingdom, Pravda in the former Soviet Union?
It seems the real issue here is whether those parties who seek to sustain a prescribed type of thinking over what had become the Establishment media landscape (today’s Big Tech social media platforms) had done a good job of making their ideas competitive over the free market of ideas. If their ideas failed to compete in that free market, is tilting the market to the disadvantage of the competition the right way to go? Americans, of all people, would not take kindly to such a prospect.
In any case, social media is just a class of applications that is running on the Internet. This is an important point to make. Social media “platforms” such as Twitter and Facebook are not the Internet. That’s not to say these and their peers have not been trying to be the Internet. That’s not different from the Inquisition trying to be the standard of human thinking or Pravda employing state resources to enforce its being the only source of news in the now-defunct Soviet Union.
If people lose confidence in the notion that Twitter and Facebook are level playing fields for competing ideas to be exchanged, they will go elsewhere just as people who realised that churches and mosques were not really places where different points of view could be discussed safely voted with their feet. It may take time, but it will happen. In an age where change moves a lot faster and companies rise and fall within just a year or two, perhaps sooner rather than later. Other applications and “platforms” will be built on the Internet where the competition will continue. Maybe a new Internet altogether will be built as was the premise of the hit HBO series Silicon Valley.
So should outgoing President Donald Trump be banned on Twitter and Facebook? The answer to that question depends on what Americans really want to achieve. Is it to “fix” the inconvenience of a certain “undesirable” demographic or ethnic group being able to express their “politically-incorrect” points of view? Or is it because of a genuine aspiration to make the world a safer place for diverse ideas and points of view to be exchanged? Here’s another more acute one to consider:
Will blocking Donald Trump silence his supporters?
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