Categories
Opinion

Unregulated social media companies should worry all of us

We all spend too much time on social media. Every time I look at my screen time, I squirm in my seat, throw my phone on the floor, delete all my social media, only to re-download it all again just two hours later.

Almost every social media user has experienced something similar in their time online, yet we always seem to be drawn back in.

This is not done by default but by design. In other words, social media companies design their platforms to create and subsequently feed addiction.

The notion of ‘social media addiction’ is something that has been bought to the fore by former Google employee, Tristan Harris, who claims that social media apps act as a substitute for ‘Big Tobacco for our brains’.

Harris was a key figure behind the recent Netflix documentary, ‘The Social Dilemma’, which presented a compelling case against the recent expansion of social media and smartphone technology.

During an interview with Fox News, Harris argued that the smartphone is “the most deep and subtle issue of our time … I believe it’s actually an existential threat to democracy”.

”Three billion people have a brain implant that’s a remotely controlled brain, because – especially in the coronavirus times – we are relying on these things to make sense of what’s reality out there in the world,” Harris said.

‘They have become the fabric for our sense-making and the fabric of our choice-making, the fabric of how children develop.”

Harris is not wrong – I have been on Twitter since May 2013. This means that Twitter has been shaping my beliefs for over eight years, despite being just 21 years of age.

A key driver behind the sustenance of these platforms is interaction: likes, retweets, comments, direct messages – all of which usually occur when one user agrees with another.

The resulting dopamine release that is proven to occur following such interactions means that people naturally continue to post thoughts that will likely be interacted with.

As a result, independent thought is something that is seemingly lacking from social media these days, especially in relation to politics.

Companies such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram all use complex algorithms to measure your preferences: what you like, what you do not, what you linger on for one second more, or one second less. This data not only informs your timelines but is packaged and sold to the highest bidder.

We are all aware of how Facebook and Cambridge Analytica were able to influence the 2016 Brexit and US Presidential elections, respectively – social media companies not only have the power to influence individuals but their political beliefs and by extension, political outcomes.

When are we going to draw the line? If social media companies can control what political opinions you do and do not see, it is entirely feasible that they can swing elections results one way or another.

Twitter has also shown form with their recent ban of former US President Donald Trump. Regardless of his beliefs, should Twitter really act as the final arbiter of what he can and cannot say online?

The only next logical step is government intervention; following the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook promised change. Since then, it has promised more change – what’s changed? Nothing.

Social media companies have shown time and time again that they cannot be trusted to self-regulate. Our only hope of change lies within real, meaningful legislation that removes social companies from the secret positions of power they have put themselves in.

An easy counter-argument would be: if you do not like it, just delete your account.

This is simply not realistic for the people of today or the children of tomorrow. Twitter and other forms of social media platforms, like it or not, have become essential forms of communication for people across the globe.

Social isolation, especially among children, is at an all-time high due to the restrictive implications of the COVID-19 pandemic – the last thing that is needed is the total removal of forms of communication.

Instead, we need to make sure that social media companies are held accountable for their actions and stripped of their ability to orchestrate our socio-political futures on a mass scale.

Categories
Opinion

Social media companies require government regulation – here is why

We all spend too much time on social media. Every time I look at my screen time, I squirm in my seat, throw my phone on the floor, delete all my social media, only to re-download it all again just two hours later.

Almost every social media user has experienced something similar in their time online, yet we always seem to be drawn back in.

This is not done by default but by design. In other words, social media companies design their platforms to create and subsequently feed addiction.

The notion of ‘social media addiction’ is something that has been bought to the fore by former Google employee, Tristan Harris, who claims that social media apps act as a substitute for ‘Big Tobacco for our brains’.

Harris was a key figure behind the recent Netflix documentary, ‘The Social Dilemma’, which presented a compelling case against the recent expansion of social media and smartphone technology.

During an interview with Fox News, Harris argued that the smartphone is “the most deep and subtle issue of our time … I believe it’s actually an existential threat to democracy”.

”Three billion people have a brain implant that’s a remotely controlled brain, because – especially in the coronavirus times – we are relying on these things to make sense of what’s reality out there in the world,” Harris said.

‘They have become the fabric for our sense-making and the fabric of our choice-making, the fabric of how children develop.”

Harris is not wrong – I have been on Twitter since May 2013. This means that Twitter has been shaping my beliefs for over eight years, despite being just 21 years of age.

A key driver behind the sustenance of these platforms is interaction: likes, retweets, comments, direct messages – all of which usually occur when one user agrees with another.

The resulting dopamine release that is proven to occur following such interactions means that people naturally continue to post thoughts that will likely be interacted with.

As a result, independent thought is something that is seemingly lacking from social media these days, especially in relation to politics.

Companies such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram all use complex algorithms to measure your preferences: what you like, what you do not, what you linger on for one second more, or one second less. This data not only informs your timelines but is packaged and sold to the highest bidder.

We are all aware of how Facebook and Cambridge Analytica were able to influence the 2016 Brexit and US Presidential elections, respectively – social media companies not only have the power to influence individuals but their political beliefs and by extension, political outcomes.

When are we going to draw the line? If social media companies can control what political opinions you do and do not see, it is entirely feasible that they can swing elections results one way or another.

Twitter has also shown form with their recent ban of former US President Donald Trump. Regardless of his beliefs, should Twitter really act as the final arbiter of what he can and cannot say online?

The only next logical step is government intervention; following the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook promised change. Since then, it has promised more change – what’s changed? Nothing.

Social media companies have shown time and time again that they cannot be trusted to self-regulate. Our only hope of change lies within real, meaningful legislation that removes social companies from the secret positions of power they have put themselves in.

An easy counter-argument would be: if you do not like it, just delete your account.

This is simply not realistic for the people of today or the children of tomorrow. Twitter and other forms of social media platforms, like it or not, have become essential forms of communication for people across the globe.

Social isolation, especially among children, is at an all-time high due to the restrictive implications of the COVID-19 pandemic – the last thing that is needed is the total removal of forms of communication.

Instead, we need to make sure that social media companies are held accountable for their actions and stripped of their ability to orchestrate our socio-political futures on a mass scale.

Categories
Opinion

Not-so-New Labour: why Keir Starmer is failing

He was meant to be the man, the Lord and Saviour, the man who could pull Labour back from the brink – dare I say it, the new Tony Blair. Nearly one year on, Keir Starmer’s Labour revolution has barely even begun.

Last April, Keir Starmer replaced one of the Labour party’s most controversial leaders ever, Jeremy Corbyn, after it suffered its worst electoral result in nearly one hundred years.

It was the 2019 General Election that saw Labour lose 60 seats, many of which were thought to be part of an indestructible ‘Red Wall’ – and yet, as in Westeros, the wall came crashing down.

Labour lost Birmingham Northfield, Wrexham, Bridgend – perhaps most shocking was the loss of Bolsover; this saw Parliament’s longest-serving MP, Dennis Skinner, lose his seat.

It truly was a shocking performance and there is no doubt that the party leadership had to change – it was not resonating with the public anymore. But why?

There are likely many reasons for Labour’s shocking performance. Perhaps the British public simply was not interested in a radical, left-wing government; the party had also been unforgivably slow and reluctant to deal with a vile anti-Semitism that had spread across the party.

However, this contradicts Corbyn & co’s success just two years earlier, when they forced Theresa May’s minority government into cahoots with the Northern Irish DUP.

Rather, it is abundantly clear that Labour’s historic defeat was largely defined by Britain’s issue of the day: Brexit.

Corbyn failed to clarify his stance during the 2016 referendum and then proceeded to vote against every single solution May’s government came up with. To this day I could not tell you what Corbyn wanted out of Brexit.

Of the 60 seats lost by Labour, all but eight voted to leave the European Union – that is 52 constituencies that looked at Labour’s dreadful Brexit stance [if you can even say they had one] and thought “I’m not having any of that”.

The eventual winner Boris Johnson, on the other hand, framed the 2019 GE as the second referendum Remainers had craved for so long. The results of this make-shift referendum were so conclusive that talk of an actual follow-up all but disappeared.

It is worth noting that Keir Starmer was a ferocious Remainer himself, and frequently called for a second referendum during his time as Shadow Brexit secretary.

So, given the huge role Brexit clearly played in the last election, was it really wise to respond to the nation’s decision to double-down on Brexit with somebody who does not believe in it at all?

Of course, Starmer would tell you now he wanted the ‘will of the people’ to be respected, but his prior behaviour clearly suggested otherwise.

To make matters worse for Starmer, Boris has since ‘Got Brexit Done’, achieving a deal that, at least on some level, has managed to appease most factions across the country: Remainers were relieved to see a deal, while hard-liners were happy to see us leave the single market and customs union.

But it would be lazy to pin Starmer’s troubles solely on Brexit – the reality is, it is no longer the nation’s biggest worry.

As well all know, the UK has been gripped in battle against the deadly COVID-19 virus for over one year, which has totally upended the normal political agenda.

Perennial debates about the economy, education and the state of welfare have not disappeared, but have been re-framed in the context of a global pandemic.

It’s no longer about improving education, it’s about getting kids into school safely; it’s not about who should get welfare, it’s about who isn’t being furloughed.

I am in no way suggesting that Starmer and his party should exploit a terrible situation in what would be a ruthless and maniacal attempt to move up the polls, but these are issues Labour have dealt with before, and frankly, they should be doing a much better job holding the government to account for its inexcusable mistakes.

The ground is ripe for opposition and we are in dire need of it: the UK has the third-highest per-capita death rate in the world and has experienced some of the worst case and hospitalisation rates across Western Europe. We lack a fully functioning test & trace system, as the UK government fails to provide indispensable support to those in need across the country.

And yet, the government has been given a fairly easy ride. That is because Starmer’s priority appears to be ‘one-upping’ the government, rather than dealing with the issues that so desperately need addressing.

A common criticism has been that Labour waits until it hears rumblings of a policy that the government is seemingly veering towards; it then calls on the government to do exactly what it is already planning to already do.

One recent example is the party’s suddenly extreme stance on the issue of border control; we have been in this pandemic over one year, with this particular issue being one of concern for some time now.

Despite this, it is only now that Labour are attempting to dominate the national discourse and lament the Tories for their lack of action – even more ironic, then, that Starmer was an avid Remainer.

Unsurprisingly, the government already plans to introduce ‘quarantine hotels’ for high-risk countries.

And then there is issue of schools. This is a very sensitive moral dilemma, the solution to which is by no means easy.

Right at the start of the year, Boris and his government were hammered by the national press for dithering and delaying on the issue of school closures. In a typical-timely manner, right at the last moment, Starmer urged to the government to close schools – just days later, the government did.

Now the party’s policy has changed again: vaccinate all teachers and open schools immediately – keep in mind, the country has not yet vaccinated everyone from the four most vulnerable groups. Not only this, but there would still be 17 million more people considered to be at high-risk of serious disease in need of vaccination.

The desire to vaccinate nearly one million people who work in schools would mean one million people with serious vulnerabilities not getting vaccinated and would almost certainly lead to unnecessary deaths.

It would be understandable if teachers were at serious risk of illness or death, but the profession sits in 12th for overall number of COVID-related deaths – with lorry drivers first, why is the focus not on giving them greater protection?

Starmer’s overall position on education perfectly encapsulates the party’s approach over the last year: wait until the right moment to criticise the government, claim they are holding it to account when it inevitably enacts a policy, and then wait for a new angle on the same issue.

Seemingly, the public see right through it: the latest YouGov/Times voting intention figures show the Conservatives on 39% (+1), gaining a lead over Labour, who are down on 38% (-1).

As for a recent Survation poll, Conservative voting intentions sit at 39%(-2), while Labour remains unchanged at 37% – even as the Tories drop, Labour do not gain.

The gap is respectable, perhaps even more so given the dismal outcome of the last General Election, but the trajectory is worrying and with this government, it should be doing much better.

In a recent interview we conducted with ‘The Kunts’, a satirical-punk band most famous for its recent song ‘Boris Johnson is Fucking Cunt’, Kunt, the main act, gave us a sense of what people across the country think of the Labour leader:

“When I look at Keir Starmer, I just see Tony Blair. He’s part of the system because he’s a “Sir” presiding over the Crown Prosecution Service when they chucked out the Jimmy Saville case. I’m not saying he’s personally responsible but it’s what he represents as a leader”

Starmer’s first year as Labour leader must be considered a failure. The party is failing to hold the government to account, it’s failing to win over the public and lacks any sort of general image or policy direction.

There are four years until the next General Election, so there is some time yet to shift the post-pandemic debate in Labour’s favour.

If the last 12 months are any indication, however, Keir Starmer has shown he is incapable of leading the Labour party.

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INTERVIEWS

Boris Johnson Is A Fucking Cunt: Exclusive Interview

The Christmas number one has become a long-standing tradition in the music industry and has infiltrated wider British culture – first formatted in 1952, it has been claimed by legendary artists such as Elvis Presley, The Beatles, Queen and Michael Jackson throughout the decades. 

Winners of The X Factor have also typically enjoyed success in this festive race – particularly between 2005 and 2010. Listeners keenly tune in on Christmas Eve to discover the winner of the tightly-contested race – with fan classics competing with newer tracks, unexpected outsiders, and talent show winners. 

2020 was very different. The coronavirus pandemic has greatly altered the practices of the music industry – artists are no longer able to tour or perform live to earn an income, and are more reliant on social media to promote and distribute their music. 

Fans have become used to tuning into YouTube to watch their favourite artists perform – the roles of Facebook and Twitter have become far more central too. 

A Guardian report in November, quoting figures from UK Music, predicted a loss of £3billion to the music industry across the year – the same report also estimated an 85% slump in the live music sector, with job losses of up to 170,000.

Furthermore, the public mood was not one of traditional festive cheer and jubilance. The public are frustrated and stressed, bored and fearful, uninspired and exasperated. 

According to YouGov, whilst 72% of the public believed the government was handling the pandemic “very” or “somewhat” well on 27th March, 11 days after the first national lockdown was imposed,  this figure effectively halved to 37% on January 19 this year. In mid-September, this figure was meandering around a low of 30%.

Feelings of “frustration” increased from 35% in March 2020 to 46% in January this year, a similar trend was evident in feelings of “happiness” – falling from 50% to 34% in the same period. “Boredom” also nearly doubled from 21% to 40%. 

With his political style of constant U-turns, cronyism, and delaying decision-making until it is almost always too late, Boris Johnson has been the subject of a huge amount of this public dissatisfaction. Whilst 55% of the public believed he was “competent” in April 2020, this figure fell to 34% this month. Almost exactly contrarily, views of “incompetence” increased from 31% to 52% in the same period. 

Also, whilst 28% of the public believed Boris was “indecisive” in April 2020, this increased to 69% this month, whilst those believing he was acting “decisively” fell from 58% to 21% in the same timeframe. 

Amongst this backdrop of public malaise and anguish, and unprecedented changes to the way consumers interact with artists and consume music, The Kunts rereleased “Boris Johnson Is A Fucking Cunt” from their July album “Kunts Punk In Your Face” on 10th December.

Credit: xsnoize.com

Just 81 seconds, and containing only 8 words repeated in a catchy hook, the song reached 5th in the Official UK Charts at Christmas, and was the 20th best selling single of 2020. 

As of right now, the song has been streamed on Spotify nearly 7,500,000 times, has spawned several remixes featuring other high-profile public figures, and was endorsed by Black Mirror creator Charlie Brooker. 

With zero TV or radio coverage, and without the help from a promotion company or record label, the song represented a howl of pain from the public and a desire to spin the usually light-hearted Christmas race to a vote of no confidence in Boris, especially after the late-notice cancelling of Christmas household mixing provisions, and the introduction of Tier 4 restrictions across the south. 

The song has also come to represent the strength of people power and collective action in the post-COVID music industry, capitalizing off the pure contagion of a social media campaign to propel the song into the top 5. In the words of the Kunt himself,  ‘the whole campaign cost a tenner’.

I spoke to the man behind the act (who made it clear he wanted to be referred to as ‘Kunt’) about the history of the track, promoting the song, and his wider views on the political state of Britain in 2020. 

__________________________________________________________

Before entering the musical world, Kunt spent several years working for his local council, “putting some tiles around a sink, fixing a broken toilet in a youth centre”, and it was these mundane tasks that “generated the (song) ideas and gave the ideas a chance to percolate” 

“I’d go home, work on the song, then the following day when you’re back working and doing things, the ideas come through like that. I’d normally get a melody, or an idea of the topic of the song, and then go and write the music on the computer, and record it from there”.

When asked whether his experiences working for the council has shaped his own politics at all, Kunt gave a mixed response. One huge issue for him was the bureaucracy and level of waste in local government. 

“I could see there were lots of ineffective people, something that shocked me was the amount of waste. One of the worst wastes of money was if you needed a lightbulb changing, you had to call in the contractors. The contractors charge £60 of taxpayers money just for some bloke to come in, change a lightbulb, have a cup of tea, and go again”.

“The council had money leaking out of it left, right and centre, and you’d see them spend £1,000s on equipment that they didn’t really want or need, just so they didn’t get their budget cut for the next year”.

“When you think of all the money that’s gone down the drain on red-tape and bureaucracy, that could’ve been channeled into having a proper health service”.

Kunt admits there is no easy fix to this issue: “No-one is prepared to go to ‘year zero’. People are scared of change. It’s like the people who were employed by Michael Jackson. They know something wrong’s going on, but they’re worried about their jobs so they keep quiet and no-one says anything”. 

In July last year, The Kunts released That’s Why I Voted Brexit, from their 10-track EP Kunts Punk In Your Face, which Kunt revealed was originally entitled That’s Why I Voted UKIP. This marked the band’s first foray into music with a clear political spin, as opposed to previous crude and light-hearted tunes such as Fucksticks and Use My Arsehole as a Cunt that built the bands following over several decades. 

“It was just about the ridiculousness of looking at people with foreign cultures and being scared of things that are different. I think a lot of the reason we left the EU was to do with fear of anything different. People are scared, I don’t even know what they’re scared of. I even had friends talking about ‘taking back control’, that slogan Cummings made up, and I thought ‘fuck, it’s actually worked!”

As a band with only two songs entering the top 70, in 2010 and 2011, Kunt was hugely surprised by the popularity of the song, both in terms of the charts, and wider public reception.

“As someone who’s been making music for 30 years with no success, I was surprised. I was really fucking surprised”. 

“A mate of mine, Jon Morter, who was behind the Rage Against the Machine campaign to go up against the X Factor 10 years ago, he sent me a message saying ‘Fucking hell mate, nice one!”

“I said ‘maybe we’ll just give it a go’, and release it in the run-up to Christmas. The week before, it was quite quiet, and I thought ‘I’m not really sure anything is gonna happen’. The minute I went with the release, my fans went really proactive and started spreading it – it was like COVID in that every person had a good R number, and it spread from there”

“It was completely people power. There was no promotion budget, no record label, no promotional company, it was just me, in lockdown, doing it from the shed at the end of my garden. I was so short of time, working the social media, doing 14 hour days just to keep up”.

“When Boris cancelled Christmas halfway through the week, I thought ‘fucking hell, he’s doing my promo for me!”

However, the Kunt’s sentiments regarding Boris and what he represents are not new at all. 

“I thought Boris was a fucking cunt a long time ago, a long time before the lockdowns, and a long time before he cancelled Christmas”.

In fact, Kunt draws certain parallels between his own musical act and Boris’ political style. 

“This is my whole live act – if you can deliver quite offensive, hard-hitting things, but you can do it in the style of a kids presenter, people get on board with it and take it as a joke. I think Boris has made a whole career out of that – he looks ridiculous, he acts like a buffoon, but actually, he’s got really sinister undertones”.

“I actually think the guy’s a psychopath and a compulsive liar, and someone who isn’t actually in control of what comes out of his mouth, and then he just bats it away, and he gets away with it”.

When asked whether or not Boris has in fact made any correct decisions throughout the course of the pandemic, the Kunt struggled. “I feel like he always seems to get it wrong somehow. I just don’t know how he does it, he’s like a fucking magician, he waves his hand, and everyone has forgotten about it”. 

“We’ve got the 3rd worst per capita death rate in the world. I don’t know how much worse he could’ve done. I never really considered this to be a political song, I just presumed everyone would think he’s a fucking clown”.

In fact, it hasn’t just been Boris who has been subject to The Kunts musical wrath. Throughout last month, the band released various remixes – targeting figures such as Xi Jinping, Matt ‘Wankcock’ Hancock, Prince Andrew and Donald Trump.

“I thought calling Xi Jinping was a ‘fucking cunt’ was justified because he’s a fascist dictator. Prince Andrew is a dodgy, sweaty cunt as well”.

There was also a Jimmy Saville remix (The BBC Turn A Blind Eye To It Mix), and I asked the Kunt about his views regarding the BBC. The Beeb did not play the song at all throughout the promotional campaign, despite the band releasing a ‘clean’ version – with expletives replaced by “sausage roll”.

“Throughout the whole campaign, the BBC didn’t mention it once. It got mentioned in the chart rundown, there was a clean version they could’ve played, but there was clearly some directive at the BBC to blackout on it, because it was too uncomfortable to deal with”.

“The BBC produces a lot of good content, but I don’t know why we have to fund it now. Also the idea that they’re completely politically neutral, I just don’t buy it. I just think it’s an institution for a bygone era, and it needs breaking up and sorting out. I’m not saying I’ve got the answer to it, I’m just some bloke that makes songs in his shed”. 

Kunt also took aim at Facebook and Twitter, which were central in his promotional campaign and granting the band a platform to spread and distribute their music. 

“I miss the days of MySpace, the internet was more naive then. When people wanted to become a fan of your music, there were no algorithms in place to stop the people that wanted to connect with you being able to do so”.

“It was a much more free arena to express yourself. For example, when I was doing the Boris Johnson song, I had lots of people tell me they were serving Twitter bans just for posting in the name of the song, because of hate speech.”

“If you call your friend a ‘cunt’, it’s not something of great offence, it’s a term of endearment and could be used for 100 different reasons, but the social media platforms can’t pick up the nuances of conversation, and things kind of get shut down”

“I feel monetization has been a real killer of creativity and has stopped some things that were really good finding an audience. I’m so old and out-of-date I’ve not even worked out why TikTok is a thing, what the appeal of it is, I haven’t really got my head around it.”

In terms of the future, Kunt hopes to return to his older style of music, and feels he has somewhat exhausted the political avenue. 

“I wasn’t really interested in politics for a long time, it’s only really been in the last few years that politics has interested me, I’m very late to the party.”

“It was fun to do for a while, but I can see it becoming quite wearing. I’m not saying I’m going to give up the political spin, because once you’ve had your eyes open to how rotten the whole system is, you’ve got to do something. But I think the next lot of stuff will be a return to the old Kunts”.

Furthermore, Kunt admitted the promotional campaign for the song became quite draining. 

“I don’t like promoting things. My favourite thing is to sit here at the computer, fiddling around with songs, and making albums. When it comes to promoting them, you always feel like you’re selling a bit of yourself”

“When people are fed up with it, they’re fed up with you, so I don’t want to be that bloke because that’s not what I’m about, I’m about making songs that make me laugh and hopefully make a few other people laugh as well.”

Kunt has spent this lockdown performing a live show every Saturday, recording a song everyday, and watching Cobra Kai. “As someone firmly stuck in the 80s, it’s fucking great to see this bloke who’s also stuck in the 80s and an even more flawed character than me. Love it.”

At the end our conversation, Kunt warned me “not to stitch him up” with this article. I really enjoyed speaking to the man behind the song – a valuable insight into the promotional campaigns behind viral hits, and a microcosm of the public political mood over Christmas.

Categories
Opinion

Donald Trump’s Twitter ban is a worry for everyone – here’s why

Donald Trump has been banned from Twitter. Ponder that statement for a moment – are you really surprised?

Former reality TV star and businessman Donald Trump has been condemned back to the sidelines of politics after completing his final day in office.

The former US President did not go down without a fight, however, kicking and screaming his way out of the White House from the moment he lost the election to Joe Biden.

Immediately after the results were announced, Trump took to his infamous Twitter page to scream FAKE NEWS!!!! and claimed that the Democrats had orchestrated a mass assault on American democracy.

What started as a typical Trump tirade quickly turned into a fully-fledged legal battle: Georgia’s vote recount came back once again in favour of Biden, while US federal appeals courts in Pennsylvania & Wisconsin refused to even consider his case.

And then, up steps Twitter. As legal battles ensued, the social media platform marked any allegations of voter fraud by Trump with a disclaimer: ‘Some or all of the content shared in this Tweet is disputed and might be misleading about an election or other civic processes’.

Photo by Marcus Winkler, Unsplashed

Twitter has always had the power to silence its users and there are certainly good reasons for it. If somebody is spouting clear hatred, discrimination or inciting violence, Twitter can and should step in.

But the lines are becoming increasingly blurred, and interventions are becoming more common. Trump’s claims about voter fraud were disputed, but is it Twitter’s job to remind of us this? Not only this, is it Twitter’s job to determine what should and shouldn’t be highlighted?

This was just the start of Twitter’s war against Trump; ultimately, it was his comments prior to the Capitol Hill riots that allowed Twitter to deal its final blow.

Despite the harrowing scenes in Washington, Trump’s subsequent impeachment and Biden’s succession into office shows that America’s democratic institutions have stood firm. This only further highlights how unnecessary and worrying Twitter’s actions were.

Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey has defended his platform’s decision: “I believe this was the right decision for Twitter. Offline harm as a result of online speech is demonstrably real”.

The CEO did admit, however, that it could set a worrying precedent: “Having to take these decisions fragment the public. They divide the public…and sets a precedent I feel is dangerous: the power an individual or corporation has over a part of the global public conversation”.

Dorsey is right: his company’s decision to take the highly political decision to ban Trump will have consequences, especially as long as his platform decides to silence only certain perspectives.

To clarify, I am no fan of Donald Trump; his Presidency has been a disaster and has left the United States in an extremely precarious situation as ‘leader of the free world’.

It is becoming increasingly clear, however, that Twitter only feels this level of social responsibility when it comes to politics; not only this, but when it comes to opposing a given political agenda.

Photo by John Cameron, Unsplashed

How can Twitter justify the removal of Trump when countless Chinese officials, undoubtedly involved in – or at least aware of – the persecution of Uyghur Muslims, continue to use the platform to deny that this persecution is taking place? Does Twitter draw the line at genocide?

Just yesterday, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared on Twitter that ‘China is committing genocide and crimes against humanity…targeting Uyghur Muslims’.

In response, Chinese state-affiliated media took to Twitter to dispute the claims; Chen Weihua’s response was to celebrate the end of Pompeo’s tenure as the ‘Secretary of Disinformation’.

There is an overwhelming amount of evidence that corroborates Pompeo’s claims and government policies across the world are beginning to reflect this. So why has Weihua’s tweet not been disputed?

Surely the continued use of Twitter to deny China’s horrendous behaviour facilitates the continued persecution of Uyghur Muslims, as the Chinese government engages in a monumental effort to cover up its atrocities?

What may be even more worrying is that Twitter’s actions cannot be viewed in isolation. Other platforms quickly followed suit; Google, Facebook – even Pornhub. That’s right, Pornhub, the adult-porn site implicated in the trafficking of women now also feels a renewed sense of social responsibility.

Facebook’s decision to ban Trump is surely the most dubious. Let’s not forget, this is the same platform that facilitated Cambridge Analytica’s use of targeted data to influence Brexit referendum and the 2016 US Presidential election.

Photo by Annie Sprat, Unsplash

And yet, despite the inconsistencies, the giants of Silicon Valley do not draw the line at political figures – their censorship is something I have experienced myself.

It was one fateful Tuesday night, when I decided to tweet: “Let’s not forget the Chinese government is to blame for this pandemic”.

I will resist the desire to indulge in the full reasoning behind my tweet but given reports of whistle-blowers being silenced at the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, it is an issue I believe needed discussion.

Twitter, however, disagreed. I was subsequently banned from tweeting for over 12 hours, due to ‘offensive tweets’. I reached out to Twitter for a response, yet did not receive one – must I assume it was due to my anti-Chinese-government message?

It is this type of selective silencing that we should all be worried about; it isn’t just affecting politicians, but ordinary citizens as well. In 10, 20, 30 years, what will Twitter deem worthy of their wrath?

Ultimately, Trump was wrong about voter fraud and his comments prior to the Capitol Hill riot may still be classified as incitement, but the move by Twitter and its tech-allies sets a worrying precedent for our freedom of speech on social media.

This age-old ideal is fundamental to the health of any functioning democracy and Twitter’s actions demonstrate that our freedom of speech hangs on a knife edge. Nineteenth-century philosopher John Stuart Mill explains its importance better than anybody could hope to:

“The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race…if the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit – the livelier impression of truth”

Social media platforms must realise that in their attempts to protect the public, they threaten the very ideals that uphold our democratic society.