Social Media Companies Need to Shut Down Chatter of Martial Law and Military Coups

Many are thoroughly aware of how social media has changed our individual lives; however, it has also changed the nature of our democracy. In some ways this has been good by sparking more activism, allowing people from different areas of the country and around the world to connect, and giving a platform to important alternative voices. Despite these positive aspects, I would argue as a whole social media has been more negative than positive in relation to our democracy. The film The Social Dilemma really lays this out. Social media has allowed people to retreat into their ideological bubbles and, perhaps even more concerning, allowed fake news and conspiracy theories to thrive in ways that would never have been imagined before. It could be argued that right wing leaders like Trump in the US and Bolsonaro in Brazil would never have been elected previous to the advent of social media.

Though social media has been dangerous in allowing these right-wing demagogues to rise to power, we are now seeing an even deeper level of danger as social media has been used to allow conspiracy theories and false information to grow and expand like never before in relation to Trump’s false claims of a fraudulent election. Now that most of the legal options have been tried and failed, Trump and his team have started floating the idea of martial law or a military coup. These ideas first started being shared extensively online among Trump supporters. Now this fringe idea has become more mainstream. I saw this meme yesterday on a Facebook acquaintances timeline. He runs a podcast and is quite influential in his circle (Note: Former Rep. Gowdy never said this).

It is vitally important that companies like Facebook and Twitter stand up in this moment and not only flag or remove any post calling for a violent revolution but also consider blocking individuals at least temporarily that share this type of information. I understand that it is a thin line with free speech.I don’t believe regular citizens should just be jailed for using the word martial law or military coup. However, these type of companies have an obligation to make sure that they are doing what they can to stymie a possible military coup in the nation. At the end of the day, people are going to think twice if they think that their radical, anti-democratic opinion about martial law or a violent revolution is going to get them kicked off their favorite social network. Yes, some will go to more radical outlets like Parler, but most of them will simply avoid sharing such information if they think their Twitter or Facebook account could be shut down, and these toxic ideas will not be allowed to grow.

I believe in the free-range of ideas and thoughts, and I understand the fears of those who would say that this is going down a slippery slope. However, if this unlimited “free speech” on these networks means the end of our democracy and leaves us with a military dictatorship, is that worth it? Social media has already weakened our democracy in many ways. Hopefully these companies have learned those lessons by 2020 and actually stand up in this last month of Trump’s presidency. I doubt a military coup will happen in 2020 or 2021, but it is going to take true intention and courage to make sure that the lessons are learned this time so that it will not be repeated successfully in the future.

I am an education professor in South Carolina with an emphasis in immigrant rights and peace education