In a perfect world, social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook are meant to connect us, and create a safe space where individuals from across the globe can come together to share their thoughts, opinions, or little pieces of their lives with one another. Ideally, this concept of having a digital space creates a perfect garden where democracy can flourish, and allows for the cultivation of diverse and widespread online communities. As a creator and artist who publishes work into the digital space, I utilize these social media platforms to display and promote my own creative projects. Why is this important? What is it about modern online social platforms that is so appealing to artists like myself?
The content that circulates throughout social media is generally “unregulated except by the collective hands of the people” (Nezam); therefore, its inherent democratic nature creates a unique space for small and indie artists to launch their work. For example, let’s imagine that I just posted one of my short films publicly onto Youtube, and then one of my good friends wants to support me so they copy the link to my video and share it on Twitter to their couple of hundred followers. Now, let’s say a handful of their followers clicked the link to watch my video and liked it so much that they went on to retweet the link to their even larger followings. This chain reaction might continue on and on for a while, exponentially generating more views and publicity with every share, and the next thing you know we have a viral video. Perhaps a large group of social media users get really inspired by the short film that I put out and they start a trend of tagging @WarnerBros in the comment section, eventually gaining the attention of the CEO. The following week I begin my new job directing Warner Brother’s newest upcoming blockbuster, which I wind up winning an Academy Award for, and then I live happily ever after… Okay, maybe I got a little carried away there, but I think you get the point! It may sound a little silly, but this is an example of how the structure of social media spaces can function in a democratic way; a large chunk of the public collectively decided to make the video popular and got me a fake job at a big movie studio.
On a more serious and meaningful note, a self-governing model of social media can be and is often used to spread and develop political ideas and social activism campaigns. In a similar way to how our viral video got around the web, democratic digital platforms can create safe and accessible spaces where marginalized groups can “collectively organize, offer support, and increase visibility online for [community members] and issues that matter to them” (Auxier). It is evident that social campaigning through platforms such as Twitter or Instagram is an effective way of reaching out to expand your group’s following and gain support from a broader audience. For example, the Black Lives Matter anti-racism movement gained some serious attention in 2020 following a series of murders stemming from police brutality towards black Americans. With the use of hashtags such as #blacklivesmatter, the movement “has been able to organize countless rallies and events with large turnouts primarily using social media” (Olson), proving just how powerful the democratic online space can be.
It is important to note, however, that the idea that all social media spaces are equally democratic is flawed and unrealistic, considering that they are owned, monitored, and regulated by companies such as Meta. A newly developed threat to maintaining a fair democracy within the digital sphere is Elon Musk’s newly acquired role as the owner and CEO of Twitter. Since claiming that title, Musk has failed to protect and regulate hateful and violent speech, and he has also gone on to remove bans from problematic and hateful celebrities’ accounts, such as Kanye West and Donald Trump. Trump, who was removed from Twitter following the January 6 attack on the United States Capitol, has consistently been proven to spread misinformation and incite violent and hateful ideologies into the public domain. In order to protect the social media platform’s democratic structure and “ensure all people can participate in the public conversation freely and safely… [Twitter must] remain committed to not providing a safe haven for users who seek to spread misinformation, incite political violence, fuel hate, and undermine democracy” (Bookbinder).
The freedom of social media which allows for a self-governing and democratic atmosphere is one of the single greatest strengths of modern technology. We just need to ensure that the line is walked carefully enough to maintain a safe space so that all respectful voices can be heard.