Opinion: Storm on Capitol Hill

For the majority of social media platforms, the number of users has increased by the millions over a short period of time.

For the majority of social media platforms, the number of users has increased by the millions over a short period of time.

Sanjana Khurana and Isabel Gomez, Opinion Editor and Sports Editor

An informed and educated public is and will always be the key to American democracy. Thomas Paine’s 1776 pamphlet, Common Sense, shifted many of the colonists’ sentiments to fight for independence and get rid of the British monarchy, beginning a new era in government and civil rights. Pamphlets were soon turned into newspapers, which began to try to make a profit by dramatizing the news. The 1880s brought Yellow Journalism, a trend in which newspapers looked for scandals and presented fake/heavily exaggerated news. Yellow Journalism was one of the drivers in the US’ decision to declare war on Spain in 1898- the press pushed the public to pressure President McKinley and Congress to avenge the losses of the men who served on the destroyed USS Maine. The press and news has been historically significant in the fact that it can cause major societal movements. 

The rise of technology and the internet has developed a new source of information: social media. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Reddit provide an arena for global connection to say everything and anything. Whereas, historically, one had to be an experienced journalist for the chance to share their opinion, now, anyone has the opportunity to share their thoughts, perpetuating conspiracy theories and an avalanche of misinformation. Additionally, with COVID-19, internet usage has skyrocketed, leaving more and more people enthralled by the extreme ideas posted on public forums. These thoughts misconstrue the truth and result in the questioning of basic factual information. Media companies have begun to crack down on users who promote fake news, most prominently, the former leader of the free world, former President Donald Trump. 

Trump was impeached for a second time on January 13, 2021 on account of, according to the Congressional Articles of Impeachment served to him,  “inciting violence against the government of the United States” just one week before. At Trump’s Jan. 6 “Save America Rally” in the President’s park, he refused to concede in the election and pushed his supporters to “walk down Pennsylvania Avenue to give Republicans… pride… to take back our country.” 

At the same time, Congress and Vice President Mike Pence were meeting to count and certify the electoral college votes from the 2020 election, one that Trump refused to concede. Trump’s supporters walked down Pennsylvania avenue and breached the Capitol, breaking glass and scaling walls to enter the building in order to stop Congress from certifying Joe Biden as the 46th President of the United States. As his supporters were attempting to stop the democratic process, President Trump, according to the New York Times, watched on TV and did little to stop the violence. According to Forbes, Trump supporters had discussed potential violence on social media, and police found molotov cocktails and pipe bombs that were not utilized. Trump’s tweets casually scolded the rioters and called them “very special.” That same day, Twitter began to censor Trump’s tweets about the riots and later banned him from the platform. 

Following the Storm on Capitol Hill, Congress reconvened at around 8pm to continue the counting of the electoral votes and the impending debates over contested states. To contest the electoral college votes of a state, the law requires the signature of at least one house member and one senator; however, after the violence that took place at the capital, senators and house members pulled their signatures from many states including Georgia. In fact, Former Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senator Lindsey Graham spoke out about the danger facing our democracy and country if people continue to contest the election and incite violence. 

Social media tech moguls Mark Zuckerbeg (Facebook) and Jack Dorsey (Twitter) took matters in their own hands when they decided to ban President Trump’s social media accounts. When a number of other social media companies followed suit, Trump’s social media presence was silenced on virtually all social media platforms. Facebook and Twitter (among many others) were already filtering/removing inappropriate or false content throughout Donald Trump’s presidency; however, social media CEOs had enough, and in trying to ensure a peaceful transition of power, they used their immense power to suspend (at first temporarily but as of now indefinitely) Donald Trump’s social media accounts. 

Social Media Companies hold the not so invisible reign over our country. They wield an immense amount of control over nearly all sectors of life: social connection/communication, the economy since tech companies have the highest valued stocks and in lieu of the Gamestop and Reddit debacle, and now how our country is governed. With little to no regulation, social media companies have become almost a sort of de facto government which has taken control over and jeopardized the very democracy this country was built on. It is frightening to think that people like Mark Zukerbeg have the ability to silence the President of the United States. 

In regards to the idea of an informed and educated public, the issue lies in that people can no longer agree on a truth. Social media has given people the platform to connect with people of similar ideologies/beliefs, and thus people no longer need to speak or be exposed to people with different perspectives/beliefs. In the case of the Storm on Capitol Hill, Former President Donald Trump convinced his fanbase that the election results were a fraud, so many people connected online to plan this horrible, hateful storm of the capitol. They truly believe they were entitled to do so, and that their freedom was at stake, but by doing this they put our entire democracy at stake. 

In light of the violence at the capital, the healing that this country needs to do has become infinitely more clear. Hopefully, with the help of President Biden and Vice-President Harris, our country can begin a new healing process for our people and our democracy.