In the world of democracy freedom of speech is a prominent feature that gives people the right to express themselves and form an opinion, which many individuals exercise on a fast-growing platform – social media. Social media is not just being used as a means to communicate with one another but is a shift towards influencing individuals. It holds greater power when acted upon as it can unite diverse communities. Even though social media “provides citizens with opportunities to express themselves” there is still the concept of hierarchy of authority present regardless of living in a democratic society (De Zuniga et al., 2018). This paper will argue that regardless of freedom of speech, voices still get suppressed if they do not conform to certain standards set by social media. We will discuss the influence of social media in today’s world by looking at the involvement of social media platforms in international relations.
As the world continues to
grow economically, politically and socially the rapid adoption of technology
affects how we “access information from the news” and can further “demand
political change” (Ortiz-Ospina, 2019). The transition of receiving news on
paper to digital journalism has increased immensely over the years. According
to the Pew Research Center, approximately 91% of individuals living in 11
nations use a smartphone and social media in conjunction (Silver and Huang,
2019). These statistics indicate a sense of inclusivity within the
international community regardless of different views, however popular
platforms control who is allowed to project their voice and what they can say.
As social media acts as a mediator between individuals and their understanding
of international events. Twitter and Facebook determine who is permitted to
speak to the president of the United States of America and hold the right to suspend
an account if fails to conform to corporate beliefs.
For example, the revocation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir which provided the region with autonomy. Allowing Indian-occupied Kashmir with a separate constitution and flag except in the matter of “finance, defence, foreign affairs, and communications” (Aljazeera.com, 2019). The decision by Prime Minister Narendra Modi rattled situations in Pakistan and efforts to internationalize the situation became crucial. Henceforth, Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter were heavily used by people to propagandize the tense situation in India and Pakistan. For India, according to the company’s guidelines moderators were instructed to look closely for the slogan “Free Kashmir” (Leetaru, 2019). International media platforms like Aljazeera and BBC were accused of spreading ‘fake news’ such as unrelated protests videos to represent current situations in Kashmir. Foreign meddling and misinformation can result in a lack of transparency but has the potential to further corrupt a democracy which is evident in the case of India after the abrogation of Article 370.
In terms of hierarchy of authority, the relationship between elected officials and online platforms is evident in the case of the United States. Recently the general manager, Daryl Morey of Houston Rockets in NBA posted a tweet that supported the pro-democracy protestors in Hong Kong. Soon after the NBA was seen kowtowing to China, which got American citizens furious. The backlash received by China resulted in the cancelation of events, taking down signage, two major Chinese retailers pulling off NBA merchandise from their website and no pre-season games to be broadcasted in China (Roy-Choudhury, 2019). It is important to notice that it is not just NBA but companies like Tiffany, Nike, Apple, Versace, and even Delta Airlines have apologized to the communist regime. These companies are not obligated however the power that China holds as the largest economy results in this behaviour by companies as it will incur a cost of one billion Chinese customers. As seen in this contentious example it is evident that China used their economic power over the United States, even though Daryl Morey was exercising his freedom of expression on an online platform it was a powerful incentive for the American citizens to act on American soil.
The impact of social media
on democracy is that it tends to amplify human intention which can be in terms
of the hierarchy in authority as seen in the example of NBA versus China. As a
community we are a democracy, however considering unlimited power of companies,
elected officials in conjunction with social media acts like any authoritarian
regime. The fact that voices are constantly suppressed on social media if they
fail to conform to corporate or majority belief makes it similar to Chinese
censorship laws. Dissemination of public information and freedom of speech are
just an outer layer but in reality, is a disguised version of autocracy.
Aljazeera.com. (2019). Kashmir special status explained: What are Articles 370 and 35A?. Aljazeera. Retrieved from https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/08/kashmir-special-status-explained-articles-370-35a-190805054643431.html
De Zuniga, H., Huber, B.,
Strauss, N., & Gil de Zuniga, H. (2018). SOCIAL MEDIA AND DEMOCRACY.
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Leetaru, K. (2019, April
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Roy-Choudhury, Saheli. (2019, October 6). Houston Rockets GM apologizes for Hong Kong tweet after China consulate tells team to ‘correct the error’. Cnbc. Retrieved from https://www.cnbc.com/2019/10/07/houston-rockets-gm-morey-deletes-tweet-about-hong-kong.html
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