It has been a few weeks since the end of Donald Trump’s mandate sparked a series of events that exposed the ambiguities surrounding the functioning of the contemporary public. Let’s summarize the already known facts: After the attack on the Washington Capitol, the main communication platforms shut down the accounts of the President of the United States. Not only have Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Amazon blocked their communications services for the former president and his supporters, but Reddit, Pinterest, TikTok, Twitch, and Shopify have taken similar initiatives.
The result shows that online misinformation about election fraud has decreased by 76%, i.e. the deactivation of Trumpian’s digital patrol worked, the propaganda no longer has any tools. The question that remained open is whether we can then resolve the political and media conflicts through decisions made by a limited group of business people.
The responses to the decision to ban the former U.S. President’s accounts drew two types of comment that, while plausible, did not point to the most structural problems of the political and economic ecosystem on which the contemporary media scene rests. On the one hand, the late moment in which these platforms took on such responsibility was criticized, on the other hand, the arbitrariness of the censorship gesture was denounced. If we put the US legal scene in context, we are actually confronted with the extreme condescension of the first amendment, which even the praise of Nazism would not censor.
The owners of these platforms did their political calculations, President Trump’s parable of the descendants removed their fears and made their search for a new virginity easier. The opportunistic change of direction in the editorial office should not scandalize. Given the lack of precise and solid deontological codes within the platforms, the lack of political rules that would force them to write and respect them clearly should scandalize beforehand what boundaries and performance criteria they should adhere to. Although such platforms are private, they play a fundamental role in the public life of any country. They structure living conditions together, which is why the public interest should be the axis of its guidelines.
Paradoxically, we must thank Trump and his supporters when Western political institutions finally realize the damage caused by his repeated indecision in the realm of digital sovereignty. The short-sightedness of Western political institutions has been responsible for polluting public debates and the lack of competition in the digital market for years. It is deeply anti-democratic to leave the autonomous management of networked political communication in private hands.
The territory of the social networks belongs to the info sphere in which public and private coexist and in order not to harm one another they need an ethical and normative framework that only politics can and should offer. For example, a gym is a private space that is open to the public, just as a park is a public space that can be managed by individuals. In order to function peacefully, both contexts must conform to the legal principles that govern the articulation between common goods and resources.
First of all, two epistemological errors have to be corrected, which up until now the editorial strategies of the “big techs” have provided. These mistakes had an impact on the economic and socio-political life of every country. It was a mistake in cultural guesswork to believe that globally used platforms can be controlled with American logic. It is not only the need to reconcile profitable logic with ethical-political principles, but also to understand that such principles are different in every country. The effects of editorial decisions in California have transnational social consequences. What affects the daily and social lives of billions of people cannot be managed from a provincial culture – 90% of Facebook users live outside the US.
What is considered legitimate or illegitimate in the US does not apply in the realities of other continents (the conflicts caused by posts that are obviously harmless to an American and published in Asian and African countries are famous). Another strategic flaw underlying the ethical inertia of public and private sector companies has been the technological guesswork. As Alec Ross (The Industries of the Future) and Mark Thompson (Enough said: What went wrong with the language of politics?) Noted, it is an ideological mistake to believe that social media platforms self-regulation could be managed by Corporate engineers who know little about geopolitics, culturally rooted participatory processes, psychology, history and language analysis. The basis of the misunderstanding was the computational analysis of sociocultural and psychosocial behaviors: the technologicalization of answers to problems whose roots and consequences go beyond technology.
The subject of the discussion should therefore not be to complain about such a drastic censorship decision or to welcome it (prohibition of a president after years of monetization of his digital advertising). Some online accounts have been closed, but ambiguities have become clearer. The discussion should focus on what this event reveals: the political inability to date to regulate and democratically define the principles of “correct” participation in platforms.
Establishing the legal framework for the functioning of a communication platform would mean the establishment of a local political authority based on guaranteeing the principles of the constitution of the country of affiliation. As in the European data protection regulations. Based on these principles it would be decided how to enter and stay in an information communication space where opinions are promoted and published.
In this sense, we can see the way in which the EU is regaining digital sovereignty and defining the priorities and rules of the game of the information sphere in the European area as very positive. In order to regulate these platforms, the EU recently presented the Digital Services Law and the Digital Market Law, which claim the leadership role in the adoption of laws covering phenomena such as hate speech and racist attacks on the Internet, incitement to violence, fake news and restrict other illegal content.
In addition, according to the General Data Protection Regulation, the digital life of Europeans (their data) is protected by European regulations in every non-European area. It is the beginning of a new path that could lead to the discussion of the democratic and economic imbalance identified by the oligopolies and pave the way for regulated competition that enables pluralism and mediation between the various social actors (inside and outside the network). With that in mind, the new American administration is expected to radically correct Section 230 of the Communications Act, which exempt digital platforms from responsibility for the content they transmit.
However, there is another issue that should not be overlooked, a fundamental issue that could become the trigger for the ethical and social salvation of politics. If politics and governments want to show that power has not escaped them, if they want to reverse the global trend of the last decades, which has subordinated elected representatives to large economic groups and their operational logic, then we now have the opportunity to demand performance from digital oligarchs a uniform tax contribution in each state in which you do business.
We know how the pandemic has resulted in an even greater concentration of wealth in these companies, and we also know how states experience major budget crises. What we don’t know is why politics is afraid to play the leading role in economic justice. Many of the democratic and civic problems of this time are based on this symbolized radicalized imbalance of digital companies.
In a democratic context, the right to freedom of expression recognizes its limits if it is assumed to be in harmony with other rights. Only in a democracy the limits of freedom of expression are not censorship, but respect for bourgeois and civilized communication, which does no harm to anyone and is healthy for everyone. However, it is also necessary to highlight another type of risk determined by unequal power relations in the production of social discourse in democratic contexts. The other side of the coin of arbitrary censorship manifests itself when a dominant culture understands that for consolidation and reproduction it must be sustained not in the prohibition of the expression and expression of ideas, but in the seductive and driven invitation to think and utter certain ideas .
A pluralistic ethic based on the exercise of infodiversity must be consolidated between censorship and cultural conformity, taking into account how it should be reflected in the areas of market economy, cultural production, journalistic mediation, technological and legal infrastructures. These dimensions are constantly intertwined and form the heterogeneous scenario in which we try to establish our individual and collective obligations.
The author writes according to the new orthographic convention