Harvard To Experiment With Permanent Remote Work Flexibility for Some Employees, Bacow Tells Faculty
Harvard College Accepts Record-Low 3.43% of Applicants to Class of 2025
Court Orders Harvard to Produce Data on Student Suicides in Wrongful Death Lawsuit
Harvard Business School Names Winners of New Venture Competition
Harvard Medical School Researchers Identify Covid-19 Mutation That Makes Variants More Contagious
Over the past couple months, there has been an increasing amount of controversy concerning widespread Big Tech suppression. Many conservatives feel that their opinions are being stifled on the internet due to left-leaning bias within social media companies. To them, Donald Trump’s ban from Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and almost every other popular social media platform was extremely alarming. Personally, I felt a little torn about the event. Though I wholeheartedly think the removal was deserved and the majority of claims of the suppression of opinions is overblown, the underlying implications of the ban were somewhat worrying and highlight a growing issue of political division in our country.
Twitter, Facebook, and other large social media corporations each have the right to control who’s allowed on their platform. They all have terms of service, and if they feel that an individual or group of individuals has violated those rules, they all reserve the right to ban those people from their platform. However, while these private companies are acting well within their rights, their platforms are critical areas for public discourse. Politicians use Twitter and Instagram to publish political statements and debate their fellow elected officials. By deciding who can and cannot speak, social media can effectively control the public narrative on many discussions.
Furthermore, these corporations’ first priority isn’t to create a perfect space for political discourse — it’s their own profit margins. If these two goals happen to align, they’ll act in a way that benefits all, but it might not always transpire that way. These companies haven’t been “elected”; they have no democratic accountability, and so the public’s well-being holds limited weight in their decisions.
In spite of this, it is a massive overreaction to call this extreme censorship. Trump, by the time he was removed from Twitter, had violated its terms of service multiple times. It also does not make sense to accuse these companies of collective censorship because this was an isolated incident; we haven’t really seen anyone with such power silenced on such a large scale before.
Additionally, what would the alternative option even be?. Would we rather have social media sites with no terms of service? Or have the government play a role in these forms of media? These are complicated questions to which we are still developing the answer. Ultimately, the more pressing issue is the growing aversion to open discussion.
Across social media, advocating for an unpopular standpoint or even just asking a question can garner massive amounts of hate, even if there was no malice intended. Such reactions ostracize opposing viewpoints and push people to congregate within echo chambers that magnify hate and mute dissent. We saw this with Parler, a social media platform that devolved into a place for extreme right-wingers to spread misinformation, form conspiracies, and even plan insurgencises. The app was filled with Proud Boys members, Holocaust deniers, and white supremacists. Yet, on Nov. 8, during the presidential election, the Parler app was among the most downloaded apps on the internet. And while some extremists might’ve joined the community to spread hate and conspiracies unchecked, I don’t think that was the selling point for most people. The company framed itself as a place to “speak freely and express yourself openly without fear of being ‘deplatformed’ for your views”, playing on the growing fear of cancel culture. And so people flocked to the app, exposing themselves to many of these insane theories and throwing themselves down this rabbit hole.
Now, I know it is a somewhat privileged idea to want to have these discussions, as not everyone wants to engage with opposing views, especially when sometimes it is their own existence that is being questioned. Additionally, not all opinions should have a platform. Some speech is just blatantly hateful or false, and this rhetoric should not have a place to exist. However, blocking out entire belief systems forces people to speak only amongst themselves, and thereby become more entrenched in what they believe.
As someone who leans heavily towards the left, this is the worst thing possible, as no change can occur until more of our voting population comes together on certain issues. There will always be those who don’t listen, but we must strive to curb the trend of polarization. As Harvard students, we sometimes fall into this trap, forming our own echo chamber and not giving opposing views a place. Listening shouldn’t come at the expense of one’s mental health or well-being, and not everyone is open to discussion. But, if conceivable, instead of pushing a differing opinion away, we should try to spend some time understanding where the speaker is coming from and respectfully offer our own opinion as well.
Julius E. Ewungkem ’24 is a Crimson Editorial editor.
Have a suggestion, question, or concern for The Crimson Editorial Board? Click here.
Want to keep up with breaking news? Subscribe to our email newsletter.