Week 5: Essay #1
Social media can be a helpful tool that allows people to discuss their thoughts freely, however sometimes users may face censorship and inequality on these platforms, especially when they are not authoritative figures. In this essay I will look at how social media is not democratic by focusing on Twitter and the farmers protest that is currently happening in India. I will discuss how Twitter has created inequality by creating censorship around tweets and accounts that involve the protest. I will also discuss Donald Trump and the Capitol Hill riots and how Twitter had acted to late; both of these events will demonstrate how Twitter is in favor of the governments when it comes to free speech which creates inequality online.
In John Suler’s reading titled, The Online Disinhibition Effect he discusses the concept of “minimizing authority (Suler, 2004, p.324).” He discusses how people may be more comfortable speaking online because their identity may be unknown and that they may not have to face consequences for what they say (Suler, 2004, p.324). He says that the authority is minimized online (Suler, 2004, p.324). Suler also discusses that “According to traditional Internet philosophy, everyone is an equal: Peers share ideas and resources. In fact, the net itself is engineered with no centralized control (Suler, 2004, p.324).” I disagree with his notions that authority is minimized online and that everyone online is equal (Suler, 2004, p.324). I will demonstrate how authority is not minimized and that people are not equal online by looking at the content of the farmers protest on Twitter.
Farmer’s Protest in India
Currently in India there is a farmer’s protest happening, which has been ongoing for many months now. The protest is caused due to new laws the government has implanted regarding farming and crops (Yeung, 2021, para.2). Prior to these changes the “Indian government has offered guaranteed prices to farmers for certain crops, creating a stable guide to make decisions and investments for the following crop cycle (Yeung, 2021, para.2).” However now this has changed, and the new laws favor big companies who can “drive down prices (Yeung, 2020, para.2)”, leaving the farmers with nothing (Yeung, 2020, para.2). As these protests continue the Indian government has taken unlawful action by arresting and beating people in these peaceful protests; there have also been many deaths (Yeung, 2020, para.9). As the protest continues to gain awareness, the Indian government had decided to cut internet connection in parts of India, in order to censor this protest (Mashal & Yasir, 2021, para.1). The Indian government has also arrested journalists who have been reporting on the protests or had misleading tweets that were not in favor of the Indian government (Mashal & Yasir, 2021, para.10). There is a lot going on with the protest but in this essay, I want to focus on Twitter and it’s censorship in regard to the farmer’s protest.
In The New York Times article by Mashal and Yasir, titled Modi’s Response to Farmer Protests in India Stirs Fears of a Pattern, it discusses how this passed week Twitter had suspended many accounts temporarily which were related to the farmers protest (Mashal & Yasir, 2021, para.16). Twitter’s reasoning for this was due to a “valid legal request from the Indian government (Mashal & Yasir, 2021, para.17).” This here indicates that Twitter favors authority as it is unclear what this valid request was and many of these Twitter accounts are helping to fight for farmers rights and are fighting for justice (Mashal & Yasir, 2021, para.16); these accounts do not intend to cause harm but are discussing change that needs to happen. Since Twitter had suspended these accounts it demonstrates that they did not favor the free speech of the people but rather the requests of the Indian government. The accounts were put back and Twitter had told the Indian government that these accounts were displaying “acceptable free speech (Mashal & Yasir, 2021, para.17).” However, I question why Twitter immediately obeyed the Indian governments request without looking at these accounts and tweets. If the roles were reversed and average citizens were asking to take down these accounts, then I do not believe Twitter would do so. I will prove this with Donald Trump and the Capitol Hill riots. However, this first case with the farmers protest proves that free speech even if it’s not harming can be censored online if authoritative figures want it to be. Therefore, this case rejects Suler’s idea that authority is minimized and that everyone is equal online.
Capitol Hill Riots
Now I will discuss the Capitol Hill riots. Donald Trump had told his supporters to go and “march to the capitol (Bogart, 2021, para.2)” while “Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory were ongoing (Bogart, 2021, para.2).” Trump had been posting many things on Twitter that were continuing to be blocked as these events proceeded to happen (Bogart, 2021, para.4). Twitter had held off on suspending his account but had locked his account for twelve hours after the riots took place (Bogart, 2020, para.8). However, the question is why did Twitter take so long to act when Trump was clearly posting content that would cause harm; whereas with the farmers protest, accounts were immediately removed after displaying content that was not harmful but was spreading awareness. Many people were upset with Twitters failure to react faster in locking Trumps account (Bogart, 2020, para.10). In this way it is seen how social media is not democratic and that platforms like Twitter favor authoritative figures and are more likely to listen to them, no matter what the content is; again this demonstrates how social media is not equal and rejects Suler’s idea on equality online.
The Public Sphere
Nancy Fraser looks at the public sphere in her article. The public sphere is a place where people come to discuss problems and through these discussions can create political change (Fraser, 1990, p.57). She discusses other concepts around the public sphere, and one of them is this idea that there is a weak and strong public (Fraser, 1990, p.75). Her reading discusses this separation in society where the weak public deal with opinion and less with decision making, whereas the strong public is the opposite (Fraser, 1990, p.75). I think this applies here with the case of social media not being democratic. Public spaces online can be good places to discuss problems but there will always be a separation with the weak and strong public, and in this case I think the weak is categorized as regular citizens and the strong as authoritative figures. In this way there will always be this inequality online as governments are favored and thought of as the decision makers, so their speech is favored over others.
Although “people’s contributions are the backbone of user-generated content sites and much of the Internet (Kotamraju & Shklovski, 2011, p.1109)”, they can still be censored. Social media can be a good place for people to discuss numerous topics, however this free speech can still be censored even if the speech is not harmful. In this essay I discussed inequality online on Twitter, in regard to the farmers protest in India and the Capitol Hill riots. These events helped demonstrated how social media is not democratic.
Bogart, N. (2021). Facebook, Twitter block Trump temporarily after he calls Capitol rioters ‘very special people’. Retrieved from CTV News: https://www.ctvnews.ca/world/facebook-twitter-block-trump-temporarily-after-he-calls-capitol-rioters-very-special-people-1.5256653
Fraser, N. (1990). Rethinking the Public Sphere: A Contribution to the Critique of Actually Existing Democracy. Social Text, 25-26(25/26), 56–80.
Kotamraju, N., Shklovski, I. (2011). Online contribution practices in countries that engage in internet blocking and censorship. CHI ’11: Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 1109–1118.
Mashal, M., Yasir, S. (2021). Modi’s Response to Farmer Protests in India Stirs Fears of a Pattern. Retrieved from The New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/03/world/asia/india-modi-farmer-protest-censorship.html
Suler, J. (2004). The Online Disinhibition Effect. Cyberpsychology & Behavior, 7(3), 321–326. https://doi.org/10.1089/1094931041291295
Yeung, J. (2021). Farmers across India have been protesting for months. Here’s why. Retrieved from CNN: https://www.cnn.com/2021/02/10/asia/india-farmers-protest-explainer-intl-hnk-scli/index.html