Op-Ed, Opinion

OP-ED: American democracy isn’t on the brink of collapse — it doesn’t exist

Op-Eds do not reflect the editorial opinion of The Daily Free Press. They are solely the opinion of the author(s).

Emmy Blumenthal is a sophomore in the Boston University College of Arts and Sciences.

A group of white nationalists and pro-Trump rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol Jan. 6, seeking to keep in power a president who lost a legitimate election.

After President Donald Trump incited this violence, several social media companies — including Twitter and Facebook — shut down his accounts permanently. His conservative supporters have reacted by claiming that these companies are violating principles of free speech.

Free speech and its relationship to social media companies has been an ongoing issue ever since these online platforms collided with politics. To those who argue social media giants must preserve free speech, some have responded that these companies are private entities and are therefore not directly held to free speech laws as specified in the U.S. Constitution.

This discussion seems like a tacit acknowledgement from both sides that we live under the dictatorship of these companies.

These companies — through their monetization and promotion of certain content and control over what we can and cannot say — hold more power over our lives than any government ever has. These policies are not regulated by a constitution or controlled by the will of voters, but rather are set by the CEOs and trustees who own these private enterprises.

The horror of the Capitol riots is a direct result of undemocratic living. The emboldening of fascists has mainly taken place on social media, particularly Facebook and YouTube.

The principle of democracy is that the people choose their leaders and their laws, but do the people choose their leaders now? Have we ever?

Consider the typical day-to-day activities of most Americans. We spend our time going into — or logging onto — a workplace to get paid. We then spend our paychecks on food, services or other goods.

However, at almost all nine-to-five jobs, employees have no say on the policies governing their work or their pay. The policies that employees spend the majority of their lives following are decided by the employer and their trustees.

Beyond that, people who rent from a landlord or live in university housing have little say in the policies concerning how they live in their private space.

We might think we at least have the freedom to choose what we want to buy and that this consumer choice allows us to support certain policies we agree with. However, the production of most consumer goods is controlled by a handful of companies, leaving us with only the illusion of choice.

While some may claim our society is a democracy, we in fact spend most of our time adhering to policies of unelected leaders.

Social media has come to dominate our everyday lives, and the consumption of social media has only increased due to the isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Over the past few years, increasing attention has been brought to the “algorithm,” which refers to the automated method social media companies use to deliver specific content that will keep us on their platform. Companies such as Facebook, Twitter, Google and TikTok sell our time to advertisers without our explicit consent.

If we wanted to revoke our consent, we could hypothetically leave these social media sites. But in reality, much of our life takes place online. We spend our free time scrolling through social media apps, and yet, we have no democratic control over them.

These services — because they are only accountable to their shareholders, not their users — are incentivized to serve content that will keep people on their platform for as long as possible.

If someone is already inclined to believe conspiracy theories and white supremacist propaganda, extreme content that reinforces those beliefs — whether true or false — will keep that individual on the social media platform and allow them to view more ads. 

In other words, feeding extreme content to extreme people directly benefits social media companies. In turn, the continual stream of white supremacist content only serves to radicalize destructive ideologies.

It is time we fundamentally reevaluate what freedoms we want, what freedoms we have and what freedoms we might lose. We must ask: “How free can we really be in our current system?”

One Comment

  1. Geoffrey E. Harris

    Think this is a myopic view. Note that Facebook came out in 2003-2004, myspace in 2003, youtube in 05, google in 98. yahoo in 94. One of the earliest isps was compuserve which came out in 69. Email started in 71. Microsoft was founded in 75 and went public in 86 or so. The fairness act was dropped for media in 87. Cable tv got going by the early 80’s. Tv itself dates back to 1925 but did not become common until close to 1950, radio perhaps 50 years earlier. Newspapers have been around for centuries. Telegraph came out perhaps around 1830. The printing press itself dates back to 1439 but earlier similar incarnations — a paper press and a wine and olive press– preceded it. There were also sorts of revolts, rebellions, revolutions, secular and sectarian for centuries with and without written communication. The Protestant Reformation itself was largely a result of the proliferation of books, tracts, broadsides, journals etc with the advent of the printing press. In fact the mass printing of Bibles that were read by common people rather than being read in small parts to them and interpreted by priests was a key element of what spearheaded the development of Protestantism. So, relax. People are going to radicalize, split, fight, reorganize, reform, avoid, ignore, overlook etc all sorts of things. Don’t think that a current fad with social media, isps, the internet in general, cable, color, or black and white tv, newspapers, radio, the telagraph, letter writing, or even writing at all is going to be the means, the sine qua non, by which means dissent, rebellion, insurrection, oppression etc will happen. Only 5 people died. 10’s of millions died under Stalin just a couple generations ago.