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Why Donald Trump's ego could mean the end of Social Media

by Samuel Whitehead

September 4, 2020

Who controls social media? The answer… Well, it’s complicated.

Historically in the United Kingdom, social media platforms have relied on self-governance. Sites such as YouTube, Twitter and Facebook have all dealt with harmful content under their own accordance.

However, this method of self-regulation has faced widespread criticism. For a variety of reasons, many believe the government hasn’t done enough in blocking harmful material. But now, regulators at Ofcom have greater powers to act upon unacceptable online content.

Countries around the world have varying policies concerning social media safety. Question is, what happens when your leader is the concern? Just ask the United States of America and President Donald Trump.

Is Donald Trump’s Twitter row a serious problem?

The control of social media presents one of societies biggest contradictions. Platforms have the ability to block and ban politicians, but comparatively, governments have the power to ban and control social media. Has there ever been a man who encapsulates this contradiction more than Donald Trump?

The US President is famous for his outspoken antics on Twitter. Regularly coming under fire from the media, the public and even the platform itself. For now, Twitter has hesitated to enforce any permanent ramifications. Although, they certainly gave the US leader a slap on the wrist, earlier this year.

In May, Twitter declared President Trump had violated its rules against the glorification of violence. Consequently, the platform ‘hid’ these tweets from sight. Despite the fact the tweets weren’t deleted and could be accessed after a swift warning, Mr Trump was not impressed. In his eyes, the damage had been done. Interestingly, Trump now found himself in a unique club of world leaders who had been censored on Twitter. A club that includes Iranian Leader Supreme, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Cuban President, Raul Castro.

Unfortunately for Trump, censorship of his tweets was not the only problem he dealt with that week. Twitter also used its ‘fact checking function’ on previous Trump tweets, sparking a row between the White House and the social network, mostly related to freedom of speech. Ironically, the President has now vowed to “shut down” all social media companies, claiming they prevent free speech. Was this a serious threat from Donald Trump? TikTok would argue, yes!

TikTok highlights why social media freedom can get messy

Fast-forward to today and the social media debate continues to rumble on in American politics. This time, regarding popular social media app, TikTok. The debate concerns data protection. Whilst ultimately, it’s a separate issue to that of Trump's Twitter row, its actions may also result in the shutdown of a social network and a restriction in freedom of speech. Trump believes, Chinese owners of TikTok, ByteDance, could use American data for their own gain. A statement from ByteDance however, firmly denies this. Instead, TikTok claim it’s a political tactic from the President to run on an anti-China rhetoric. Most believe this is in preparation for his battle in the up and coming election.

In previous comments, Trump has linked Twitter to his apparent anti-China campaign. Stating in his last spat with the social media giants that: "Twitter is doing nothing about all of the lies & propaganda being put out by China or the Radical Left Democrat Party".

However, in spite of any alleged anti-China policies, does Donald Trump have a responsibility to protect his nation? In our modern society, to remove social media is to remove the voice of the democratic people. On the flipside, governments have a duty to protect people against potential harm and risk. Perhaps at this moment in time, social media isn't fully understood to allow clear decisions about these societal conflicts.

About two-thirds of U.S. adults (68%) get news from social media sites. Therefore, there’s a clear need for this news to be accurate. However, the majority of Americans (57%) say they expect the news, seen on social media, to be largely inaccurate. It seems hypocritical for Trump to suggest that Twitter is not democratic when the tweets he is producing, in terms of accuracy, are muddled at best.

Should politicians use social media?

Twitter took a stand on Donald Trump’s inaccurate tweets and were threatened with closure. What is the future for social media platforms such as Twitter and TikTok if governments have the power to ban social platforms? Ultimately, it’s a difficult balance to strike. All politicians, including Donald Trump, must not shy away from their responsibilities. Similarly, social media platforms have responsibilities themselves. Particularly sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, who have sought to become reputable news outlets in their own right. They, therefore, must stand accountable. If Twitter took a position, allowing politicians to create fact from fiction, any hope of reputability has gone.

Politicians must walk down this fine line of compromise and realise their responsibility for trustworthy news and fair political discourse. As elected leaders, denying politicians open access to social media accounts is contrary to the rights of our democratic society. Ultimately, the control of social media must be a balance between our leaders and social media outlets themselves. To battle against one another, is to battle against democracy. While it’s the Trump example most recognized in today’s society, politics is relatively young in its interaction with social media. This constant interaction will create further changes that we haven’t yet anticipated. Is it for the better or is it for the worse? No one yet, is quite sure.

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