6 large media companies control almost all media platforms in the United States, and a similar situation exists in terms of social media. In traditional media “About 15 billionaires and six corporations own most of the U.S. media outlets …. [including] AT&T, Comcast, The Walt Disney Company, National Amusement, News Corp and Fox Corporation, Sony, and Hearst Communications (Hallman, n.d.). The same thing exists for social media, where companies like Facebook (2.9 billion Monthly Active Users) own platforms Whatsapp (2 billion MAU), Instagram (2 billion MAU), and Messenger (1.3 billion MAU) (Lua, n.d.). Other companies like Google own Youtube, which has 2.2 billion MAU. With these conglomerates in mind, it is no surprise that these companies are able to effectively manipulate public opinion without much effort.
With the shift to a information society, the Pew Research Center has found that “More than eight-in-ten U.S. adults (86%) say they get news from a smartphone, computer or tablet “often” or “sometimes,” including 60% who say they do so often” (Shearer, 2021). This is while traditional media where “68% get news from TV … half saying they turn to radio … and about …(10% get news from print publications often)” (2021). The shift towards an information society is very apparent when you examine these statistics, and demonstrate how owning one of these many platforms can benefit you heavily in terms of controlling one of these democratic spaces.
The best case example of this is the Twitter platform, especially after it had been purchased by Elon Musk. When Twitter was owned by Jack Dorsey and the stockholder’s it had more of a liberal approach, and would take measures to protect users like fact checking conservative people such as Donald Trump. This is because Twitter has a civic integrity policy where they state that users “[cannot] use Twitter’s services for the purpose of manipulating or interfering in elections or other civic processes” (Farley et al., 2020).
What this means is that tweets that may violate this policy “may [be] label[ed] and reduce the visibility of tweets containing false or misleading information about civic processes” (2020). The fact checking is what happened to Donald Trump and is one of the moderation tools applied to his account to moderate his actions under Jack’s leadership and control. Not very long after, he was eventually given a lifetime ban from the platform, which de-plaformed him from one of his favorite platforms. Basically, Jack’s version of Twitter kept peace in the democratic space by ensuring crazy conservatives cannot spew nonsense without being moderated and controlled in some way.
On the other hand, after Elon Musk bought it under his wing, a more conservative view was brought onto the platform. This led to an automatic shift towards a fascist control dynamic where he is the sole dictator of all activities on Twitter. That means that with his purchase, Twitter is a democratic space for dialogue, but only up to a certain extent allowed by him. These actions have led to some crazy decisions, such as the possibility of Donald Trump being unbanned. According to Marca, ”Musk has repeatedly stated he believes banning Donald Trump was wrong, which means it’s very possible he might return” (LW, 2022). The return of Donald Trump would certainly not have occurred with Jack Dorsey at the helm. Furthermore, Reuters has floated the idea that Elon Musk’s version of Twitter is “slow to act on misleading U.S. election content” (Paul, Dang, 2022). This is problematic since the last version was able to moderate users posting misleading content, not allowing them to overpower and disrupt the peace in the democratic space. The dramatic shift is the consequence of allowing new owners who inherently have trouble controlling power, to exert all the power on one of the most influential platforms.
All in all, our examination of various data sources has shown that there is inherent bias on social media moderation and content distribution that is amplified by our heavy reliance on social media as a news source. By comparing a relatively safe platform like Twitter before and after the acquisition, we found out how much it has changed over time. It also showcases how the owner, who has access to moderation and control over the flow of information, can change what is shown to fit their narratives. While traditional media sources may even be worse, as you have no say what is being shown on the screen/printed on newspaper, at least some sources may be seen as always reliable. This is unlike the constantly changing landscape of social media with tons of different posts made daily. A truly independent platform may have the advantage of actually being able to build a democratic space on the internet, as long as all users are verified with ID. Consumers of social media should look into this as an opportunity to overhaul social media infrastructure to bring it back to the people.
Hallman, C. (n.d.). Who owns your news? the top 100 Digital News Outlets and their ownership. TitleMax. Retrieved November 9, 2022, from https://www.titlemax.com/discovery-center/lifestyle/who-owns-your-news-the-top-100-digital-news-outlets-and-their-ownership/
Lua, A. (n.d.). 21 top social media sites to consider for your brand –. Buffer Library. Retrieved November 8, 2022, from https://buffer.com/library/social-media-sites/
Lw. (2022, October 28). Elon Musk could unban Donald Trump’s twitter account: Fears of it happening grow. MARCA. Retrieved November 8, 2022, from https://www.marca.com/en/lifestyle/us-news/2022/10/29/635c4e38268e3ed6578b458e.html
Paul, K., & Dang, S. (2022, November 8). Elon Musk’s twitter slow to act on misleading U.S. election content, experts say. Reuters. Retrieved November 8, 2022, from https://www.reuters.com/technology/elon-musks-twitter-girds-surge-us-midterm-election-misinformation-2022-11-08/
Robertson, L., Farley, R., & Rieder, R. (2020, November 5). Trump tweets flagged by twitter for misinformation. FactCheck.org. Retrieved November 8, 2022, from https://www.factcheck.org/2020/11/trump-tweets-flagged-by-twitter-for-misinformation/
Shearer, E. (2021, January 12). More than eight-in-ten Americans get news from Digital Devices. Pew Research Center. Retrieved November 8, 2022, from https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2021/01/12/more-than-eight-in-ten-americans-get-news-from-digital-devices/
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