“Policing Propaganda” published by The Economist makes it evident the use of social media in the hands of politicians displays an abuse of power and leads to false advertisements of their competitors. The article claims social media is increasingly being used as a disruptive platform, eliminating honest and fair political campaigning. Although some companies have taken action, many refrain from controlling what is advertised and posted. The author maintains the regulation of content on social media networks, such as Facebook and Twitter, should lie in the hands of the government and politicians themselves, not the technology companies.
The article begins by stating how over a century ago the telegraph used to be the main source of communication for politicians across borders, allowing for truth in politics and prevention of falsification. But as time went on and technology developed, upgraded forms of media have arisen and two-faced campaigning resurfaced. Technology companies have created sites that allow for the worldwide spread of information with slim restrictions on what can be advertised. In today’s society, technology plays a vital role in relaying information among individuals and spreading ideas, especially in the political world. Politicians and government officials haven’t failed to take advantage of these modern resources, with access to networks such as Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube. Yet politicians’ use of the networks has transformed into less of portraying their ideas and policies but more of a tactic to degrade and falsify their opponent, further concealing the reality of what is actually true. Media has become full of lies and false claims, and as mentioned in “Policing Propaganda”, Elizabeth Warren believes it to be because of the network’s failure to regulate the posted content. Distorted information and propaganda have created an environment less about the facts but more about the question of what is actually a fact; the authenticity is lost. I agree with the author’s idea that the government should enforce and regulate what’s posted on these media networks rather than the companies. Owners and bosses of these networks don’t have the capacity to control every post and offensive remark made towards another individual, even in the highly publicized political world; it’s impossible. The only way to ensure the limitation of fabricated and false publication of information lies solely in the hands of the government and politicians themselves. If a change needs to be made, they need to make it.
Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, believes the technology companies shouldn’t have the power to make these decisions limiting speech and advertising on their given platform but should be in the hands of politicians to make changes within the media. I agree with this idea and the article’s stance that Facebook standing back from interference with the political world is much more democratic opposed to Twitter and Google attempting to make a change. Zuckerberg states in an article on The New Yorker, “We think people should be able to see for themselves what politicians are saying.” Also, after a meeting with Trump, Facebook announced a decision to not fact-check political advertisements during the 2020 presidential race.
As Mercieca states in “Dangerous Demagogues and Weaponized Communication”, a demagogue is an individual who uses polarizing rhetoric to fulfill their own desires and create fear amongst their competitors. Demagogues deny the legitimacy of their opponents and make them out to be enemies, as today’s politicians commonly do on social media. Using their power and words in favor of their own interests represents the lack of respect towards our nation’s democratic values and rules of the game. This idea of “weaponizing communication” that Mercieca commonly refers to is dangerous to democracy because it creates an environment where citizens are subject to manipulation and persuaded to believe in ideas that aren’t necessarily legitimate and valid. The ability to advertise on social networks provides demagogues and political figures with an opportunity to abuse their power and wrongfully bring down their opponents. Social networking sites give politicians and political parties the facilities to adopt characteristics common of demagogues, further accentuating their already evil motives and undermining of their opponents in advertisements. Demagoguery makes citizens vulnerable to manipulation and fails to recognize their opponents as legitimate, threatening the validity of democracy. This further proves the change that needs to be made and the necessity for politicians and political parties to take accountability for their slander and immoral rhetoric on social media networks.
In regards to demagogues and politicians’ use of brutal rhetoric on social networks delegitimizing their opponents, Levitsky’s belief of the democratic norm of mutual tolerance is lost. This is a key element to maintaining democracy and the failure to respect and recognize the beliefs/values of opponents and competing parties as legitimate rejects this norm. Mutual tolerance is lost if politicians become increasingly hateful towards each other on a public platform. Political parties are the gatekeepers and protectors of the norms put in place, and their failure to regulate the media will inevitably lead to an ineffective system. Unrestricted media and lack of mutual tolerance is a clear indicator of democratic backsliding. Social media is a misused platform to produce lies, false accusations, and advertisements detrimental to politics. If media regulation were to lie in the hands of politicians and political parties, there is the potential for increased abuse of power since they are now the ones with full discretion and authority over content posted. They are initially the ones posting false and fabricated advertisements, so who’s to say they won’t do it even more? Although this holds some validity, I believe the government should ultimately control and put an end to the harsh advertising and campaigning currently in practice or else democratic erosion will prevail.