Opinion: The Real Threat to Our Democracy



On Wednesday, January 6, 2021, an event happened that shook the nation. As lawmakers verified electoral votes in order to confirm President-elect Joe Biden’s victory, protesters attacked the U.S. Capitol building. The building was locked down, and law enforcement rushed to the scene in attempts to stop the chaos. Five died due to the event. The protesters claimed that Donald Trump had in fact won the 2020 election due to voter fraud.

On March 5, 1770, an event happened that shook the nation. As the British continued to control the colonies through oppressive rule such as the Townshend Acts in order to assert authority, protestors took to the streets and threw ice and snow at the British soldiers as a result of accumulation of hatred towards Parliament. It escalated into armed attack by the British. Five died due to the event. Colonists were no longer going to comply to British authority, and this event was one of our first steps as a nation towards freedom.

Nothing that happened at the Capitol building last Wednesday was justified or right. The division in our country has gone too far and violence has never been the answer, not during the Boston Massacre, not today, not ever. I bring up this analogy not to support the violent protestors themselves, or argue that these events were the same, but instead to defend the democracy that holds the nation together.

The problem arises within the ideology–while the very fabric of our nation is being ripped apart. When we lose the ability to question and challenge our own government, whether what we believe is true or not, we lose our democratic ideals. Many American views have been deemed unacceptable, and we are no longer able to have a conversation between the two opposing parties. We hear, but we do not listen. 

Large tech companies have made a point to make statements on what their opinion is on the subject. Common App sent out an email to students on January 8 titled “Our thoughts on recent national events,” which included statements such as “violent white supremacist insurrectionists stormed the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to undo a fair and legal election.” History has taught us that the pen is mightier than the sword. We as Americans have the right to think for ourselves, but this becomes difficult when powerful industries overwhelm the media with their “moral obligations” and manipulate our source of information, causing our own beliefs to come into question. Oh, (insert name of company here) said this, so it must be true, one may think. Our every action online is judged and used to shape the way we view the world. People’s social media feeds are, according to “The Social Dilemma” documentary on Netflix, “full of information that the AI deems is interesting to them. Therefore, a person who encountered an anti-vaccine video will be exposed to thousands of similar videos.”

Look no further than the history books, where media has always been used as a tool to penetrate the public. Take China, for instance, where in the 1930s Mao Zedong led his country in a Communist Revolution, and believed that literature’s sole purpose should be to promote the one-sided communist agenda. To execute this, he had to initiate the Cultural Revolution. According to the article “Seeing red: The propaganda art of China’s Cultural Revolution” from BBC, it began with thrusting anti-capitalist ideals upon China’s youth by purging many aspects of everyday life such as the arts, teaching, and other habits of the culture. The same thing occurred during the Russian Revolution, when the Bolsheviks came to power. The Bolsheviks used visual propaganda since much of their audience couldn’t read.  The article “The Russian Revolution through the Prism of Propaganda” from ehistory.org says that posters infiltrated “factories and barracks, on walls and railway-cars, on telegraph poles—everywhere.”The divisions that followed ultimately led to the Russian Civil War. Our history teaches us that there is nothing to be gained for the common man through communism. It is merely a tool the rich and powerful use to maintain their status and position, as well as to strip the public of their rights. 

In the past, news took far longer to spread compared to the capabilities we have today. Today, America’s youth, specifically adolescents and teens, are on social media more than seven hours daily, according to CNN. This leaves us extremely susceptible to what I would call headline news syndrome, or the habit of believing all that we see without fully thinking things through. As Dwight D. Eisenhower so eloquently put it in his Farewell Address in 1961, “we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous power exists and will persist.” Except now, this quote directly relates to our industrial complex. Companies have discovered that they can make a profit by becoming involved in political affairs. With social media and its capabilities today, we are playing with fire. 

The first Amendment of our Bill of Rights states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press” (“First Amendment”), and for good reason. We as Americans have the right to say what we’d like without fear or retribution. We as Americans will suffer the reward or consequence based on what we choose to put out into the world, and we as Americans have fought for our own free will to distinguish right from wrong. On January 8, 2021, Trump’s account was suspended from Twitter, along with many other notable social media sites like Facebook. Many say this is not a violation of the first amendment, since Trump is encouraging the “risk of further incitement of violence,” (“Permanent suspension of @realDonaldTrump”). Let’s take a look at what posts they are referring to. The two main posts that directly led to the ban, according to news sources such as usatoday.com and cnbc.com, were “‘The 75,000,000 great American Patriots who voted for me, AMERICA FIRST, and MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN, will have a GIANT VOICE long into the future. They will not be disrespected or treated unfairly in any way, shape or form!!!’” as well as “‘To all of those who have asked, I will not be going to the Inauguration on January 20th’” (“President Trump permanently banned from Twitter over risk he could incite violence”) (“Twitter bans Trump, says plans for Jan. 17 armed protests are circulating”). These tweets have no mention of weapons, threats, or something of the like. I myself disagree with plenty of Trump’s actions, but also have reason to believe he would not intentionally and directly tell people to hurt our country and the people living here. 

The reason the ban came about is because of people’s choice to cynically interpret these words. They have no direct association with violence. However, there are plenty of people out there who do directly incite hatred and violence, and still have their free speech intact. For example, a “killtrump” hashtag exists on Twitter. This one’s pretty straight-forward. It is important to note that yes, Trump certainly has more influence on social media being the sitting president, than other social media users. However, it does not matter if you are the President of the United States or simply an average citizen. The real question is who was given the right to take the right to free speech away? Is it a social media company? Will people always agree with these decisions? On October 3, 2020, Twitter posted “Yesterday we reiterated we have a policy on wishes of harm that applies to everyone, including elected officials.” So why do these rules only apply to a select few? The answer largely has to do with the hypocrisy that sweeps our nation today. The question we need to ask ourselves here is that are people so blinded by hatred of this man that they cannot realize when their fundamental rights are being stripped of them?

Twitter itself, on January 5, 2018, said that “[b]locking a world leader from Twitter or removing their controversial Tweets would hide important information people should be able to see and debate” (“World Leaders on Twitter”). One of the most essential aspects of being part of a free nation is our ability to have different opinions and perspectives. Social media should exist to aid the circulation of diverse ideas, not facilitate a one-sided discussion about the state of our nation. There are plenty of people out there on Twitter who post direct citations of violence. 

Our nation, from the start of World War II to the end of Vietnam, made bold actions to condemn communism and encourage democracy. We fought with the Allied Powers in World War II against the Axis powers largely to halt Adolf Hitler’s regime and fight against the dangers of dictatorship. Over 400,000 Americans died.  We fought again in Vietnam in attempts to limit the spread of communism through Southeast Asia. Over 50,000 Americans died. And now we find ourselves with a manipulative media, an inability to communicate and listen to one another, and as a result, a division nearly impossible to recover from. Are we going to succumb to the very system we have fought against time and time again? In every communist country that ever was, the people were silenced. And now, depending on where you stand, you could be too.