After the crisis in Washington ended, when radical supporters of the outgoing American president stormed the Congress building, the very heart of American democracy as it is pathetically called, Donald Trump sent the following message to his supporters on Twitter: “Remember this day forever!”
January 6th, 2021.
There is no doubt that this date will be remembered as one of those important dates that marked our time.
But not in the sense Trump suggested to his frantic supporters, but more as a turning point beyond which nothing will be the same as it used to be.
One need only to recall to which the extent the world has changed since the terrorist attack on the twin towers on September 11, 2001.
A radical shift in U.S. democratic practices happened since the events of September 11, 2001, especially during the ensuing War on Terror.
As author Vincent Warren notes, in response to the terrorist attacks on World Trade Center, George W. Bush shredded the U.S. Constitution, trampled on the Bill of Rights, discarded the Geneva Conventions, and heaped scorn on the domestic torture statute and the U.N. Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
The pervasive state of fear, the hyper-patriotism, and the militarized response to the 9/11 attacks thus combined with the already existing weakened state of democracy in the United States created what one might consider the perfect storm for the public sphere. In a book „America according to Colbert“ it is written that after 9/11, the very idea that democracy depended on an active and engaged citizenry willing to struggle for social change was often seen to be in itself unpatriotic. The conditions for thinking about how to improve the nation’s commitment to equality, access, rights, and justice were in crisis.
In general the level of legal constraints on civil liberties has grown.
Warren claims that, although George W. Bush entered the first decade of the 21st century by dismantling the rights that are fundamental to the identity of the United States and the security of its people, Barack Obama ended the decade by failing to fully reinstate those rights.
The Trump phenomenon was indirectly created by the administrations of Bush and Obama.
These two administrations set fires across the Middle East, resulting in the greatest migrant crisis and humanitarian catastrophe in human history.
Trump won the election, in part, thanks to his anti-immigration rhetoric and his criticism of „endless wars“.
The storming of the Capitol is now variously described as treason, insurrection, sedition, domestic terrorism, and an attempt by Trump to carry out a self-coup.
The carnage at the US Capitol building retriggered the debate on the role of social media in providing a platform to disseminate false information that finally culminates in violence.
„Their business models have exploited our biases and weaknesses and abetted the growth of conspiracy-touting hate groups and outrage machines“, says Yaël Eisenstat, former employee of Facebook.
Largest social media platforms are now deleting groups, pages and accounts linked to the conspiracy theory movement, despite the fact that studies have shown censorship of online commentaries tend to confirm the commenters’ conspiracy views.
There’s a lot of worrisome and talk about political censorship and free speech.
It is clear that a great debate about balancing between freedom of expression and the prohibition of incitement to hatred will be a central theme after the attack on the Capitol Hill.
Joe Ferullo, opinion contributor for the Hill commented that free speech is now in trouble because the rabble attacking the Capitol was driven by a mass delusion.
„The First Amendment is in tatters. It lies strewn on the floor of the Capitol, mixed in with the debris left behind by rioters who invaded Congress last week. It is there with the garbage dumped in the Speaker’s office, with trash and shattered glass outside the Senate chamber“, wrote Ferullo.
„The first ten amendments to the Constitution are known as “The Bill of Rights.” But history and experience have shown that they should really be called “The Bill of Rights and Responsibilities.“ None of these liberties exists in a vacuum free of consequences. We have the right to assemble, but are held responsible when that assembly becomes a riot or crime spree. We have the right to bear arms, but not the right to use those arms to threaten someone. And we have a right to free speech, but not the right — as Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes famously put it — to falsely shout fire in a theater and incite a panic“, wrote Ferullo, adding that the media have used the rights granted to them by the Constitution to falsely shout fire as loudly and as often as they could, causing mass delusion.
Clicks and ratings — profits, not politics — drives the mass delusion machine.
„It is hard to say what happens to the First Amendment now. As the Capitol Building gets cleaned up, we’ll find the torn pieces and try to tape it all back together again. Mass media and mass delusion — along with mass profits — will continue. Commentators and talking heads will still shout “Fire!” in the crowded theater of our democracy“, he claims, adding that it is up to „honest journalists to shame the marketers of hysteria and chase the dealers of dopamine and delusion into the dark alleyways where they belong“.
This last paragraph of his column is worrisome for some – does that mean „more cancel culture“.
This modern form of ostracism in which someone is thrust out of social or professional circles – either online on social media, in the real world, or both, has not produced a result that is wanted.
Do people who are “cancelled” change their behavior?
Some like Ricky Gervais criticized „cancel culture“ by says even „mildly conservative“ voices on social media are viewed as „Hitler“, and one could argue that “cancel culture” has only contributed to an ongoing process of radicalization and tearing of social fabric which has been underway for some time.
There is also a lot of talk about deplatforming.
The idea behind deplatforming is to remove the reach of radicalizing figures.
The question is does it work.
A study published by researchers at Georgia Tech last year found that banning the platform’s most toxic subreddits resulted in less hate speech elsewhere on the site, and especially from the people who were active on those subreddits.
As Vice reports, there are lots of examples of people who have been deplatformed and have seen their power wane, but the concern among academics is that, as hate moves to the darker corners of the internet, that some of their old followers may move with them and become further radicalized.
The question is whether it’s more harmful to society to have many millions of people exposed to kinda hateful content or to have a much smaller number of ultra-radicalized true believers.
These themes will dominate post-Trump social discussion.