When social media sites play politics

Abdulah Bin Bijad al-Otaibi
Abdulah Bin Bijad al-Otaibi
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A number of social media sites, such as Twitter and Facebook, have blocked the accounts of US President Donald Trump citing political reasons and thereby installing themselves as protectors of the people and institutions. These sites are not elected and have no political legitimacy granting them the right to prevent the leader of the most powerful country in the world from addressing his people. This is a unilateral decision regarding a very important and dangerous issue.

Social media sites are political means par excellence; what was once called virtual reality has become more real and widespread than our physical lived reality. This new reality is followed by billions of people who carry it in their pockets and are more closely connected to it than to traditional media. Yet these social media sites have not yet been subjected to adequate regulations and laws, and they continue to fight against government control, which is a dangerous recipe for chaos.

The strange thing about this decision is that, while it bars Trump from using his platform, it allows every dictator and terrorist in the world post about and promote terrorism and killing people, as the virtual space has become a reality in which criminal organizations, including terrorism, drugs and weapons, operate with ease. Social media sites claim their inability to control this type of communication, but apparently not when it comes to President Trump.

In this photo illustration, the Twitter account of US President Donald Trump is displayed on a mobile phone on August 10, 2020, in Arlington, Virginia. (AFP)
In this photo illustration, the Twitter account of US President Donald Trump is displayed on a mobile phone on August 10, 2020, in Arlington, Virginia. (AFP)

In light of the current internal rift in America, these sites tend towards the left rather than the right, favoring Democrats over Republicans, so it is no surprise that they would target Trump's supporters on the far right. Hence, they are basically biased sites, not neutral as they like to claim, and they have continuously clashed with Trump ever since he took office four years ago. But the truth is that, in the name of privacy, these sites have provided protection to many terrorists and fundamentalists who incite murder and destruction, only relinquishing this supposed neutrality after coming under attack from government security and judicial institutions.

Most of these sites started out as social media platforms, and since communication exceeds daily activities to include culture, politics, economics, security and other key sensitive issues, it was natural for these sites to open up to these topics that concern people, thereby gaining powerful impact on lived reality. This is where their real, not virtual, power and impact comes from.

In the name of “social media,” these sites were able to create a world out of billions of people going about their daily activities and communicating about their lives. It created a reserve force for the left with a broad base and clear financial goals. After succeeding in doing so, these sites added political goals to control everything they possibly could, and when the time came and the opportunity arose, these sites entered into the sphere of lived physical reality with full force with a series of incredibly influential and effective political decisions.

US President Donald Trump uses his cellphone as he holds a roundtable discussion. (AFP)
US President Donald Trump uses his cellphone as he holds a roundtable discussion. (AFP)

Preventing a head of state from addressing his people and guiding his supporters is an act worthy of a political or military enemy, and being forced to go back to official communication channels after everyone is used to communicating on social media, robs messages of their power and ability to be shared, which is precisely what happened with President Trump just a few days before he is scheduled to leave the White House.

Social media sites are part of the battleground between Republicans and Democrats, and in light of the charged atmosphere, the unprecedented division and the intense political and media attack against President Trump, these sites have seized this historic opportunity to influence the public sphere. In doing so, they have asserted their impact on reality and their influence on the country's present and future.

Once we agree that social media sites can hold such power, we are faced with a double-edged sword that may favor either the left or the right in the future. Even when some of these sites made efforts to block some of the accounts of terrorist dictatorships, they did not do so for political reasons but rather claimed small secondary motives such as helping limit the spread of the Coronavirus pandemic.

This article was originally published in, and translated from, Emirati publication al-Ittihad.

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Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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