Social media companies are not violating the first amendment by limiting what users can post. Social media has played a role in advancing social movements, but it has also allowed the spread of disinformation and hate. This spread of disinformation is a threat to democracy in the United States. Propaganda spread by QAnon followers and other extreme conspiracy groups contributes to democratic erosion. Democratic erosion is the process through which democracies die. It is usually thought of as a military coup or a violent take over, but today democratic erosion can occur without a violent coup. It can be seen in multiple European countries where the far-right is regaining control and reverting democratic processes to best fit their agenda. Democratic erosion can occur over long periods of time and may not be identified right away. Extreme demagogues emerge in society, the test of a democracy is whether political parties and elites will refuse to endorse these individuals and keep them off main stream tickets in order to preserve democracy (Levitsky & Ziblatt). The same systems meant to enforce and uphold democracy can be manipulated and bullied into subverting it. This form of democratic erosion is occurring in the United States today and social media companies are helping.
The lack of checks on groups who use social media to spread propaganda or plan violent attacks largely contributes to the problem. These groups thrive off of connecting with like-minded individuals or preaching to others who may be swayed to their side. Social media’s algorithm creates echo chambers and makes it easier for these individuals to find each other and recruit. Interacting with people who do not oppose each other reinforces pre-existing beliefs. This cycle generates a community who uses social media as a platform to spread propaganda and indoctrinate like-minded users. The Nazis used similar tactics, but with the radio. They would spread anti-Semitism and propaganda in support of the Nazis. The audience they spoke for and targeted were people who already held a bias. They reinforced and reinvigorated that particular group to garner support and gain popularity. The outcome of Nazi propaganda was the spread of disinformation and hate. Nazis rejected factual thought and capitalized on the division in Germany to spread a narrative which fit their cause (Hett). The methods used by Nazis worked so white nationalists in the United States today are adapting these tactics to social media.
White nationalism has been on the rise in the United States for some time. Max Boot points to the 1964 Republican National Convention when Goldwater was chosen to be the nominee. His extremist views were heavily supported by the party. Slowly the GOP has been pushing out the moderate conservative in favor of extreme far-right views. Goldwater today claims he is now considered “the new liberal of the Republican Party” (Boot). Movement towards the extreme can only hurt a democracy which requires compromise and rational thought to function. Social media has accelerated the path to extremism and many white nationalists see it as a perfect space to spread their message and harass others. Social media sites such as Parler and Telegram are well-known for containing chat rooms and spaces for white nationalism. The Anti-Defamation League conducted a study which concluded that right-wing extremists are responsible for 330 deaths, 76% of the domestic extremist-related murders in the past decade. These groups are domestic terrorist groups and are eroding American democracy, the longer they are allowed to continue to spread propaganda the more damage they will be able to do. It is imperative that social media companies take a firmer stance on white nationalism. The rejection of reality and spread of propaganda has led to physical violence and strong messages of hate. The users or victims of harassment should not be the sole people ridding social media of white supremacists; these sites must do more. Free speech is frequently cited by white supremacists in order to promote their beliefs. However, social media forums are run by private companies, therefore they have the capacity to remove people if they wish to do so. Another concern is that these groups will mobilize in other forms and use their ban from social media as a rallying cry. This is possible, but with less sites allowing white supremacists free rein it will be far more difficult to organize themselves. It is imperative that social media websites closely monitor groups that use key words associated with hate speech or violent messages. Although these groups have the ability to used coded language, many terms have been identified and translated. It is time for social media companies to demonstrate their support of American democracy by shutting down chat-rooms and spaces which spread white nationalist propaganda.
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