I woke up on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, with dread in my stomach. I knew there was going to be a rally to “Save America,” and I knew the president was going to speak. He had already brazenly tried to overturn the election by a now almost forgotten phone call to the Georgia Secretary of State, and to me, he sounded desperate.
Normally, I wouldn’t watch one of his speeches at one of his many rallies, as I know if anything important is said, it will find me through one of the news publications I look at daily.
That morning was different, though.
I told my wife we were going to watch the speech in real time, just in case he said anything we should be worried about. He could go after the media and say we were fair game, as we were “enemies of the people.”
While he didn’t say the media was open game, he did deliver a speech that will be discussed for a long time in aspects of human history. Whether he incited a riot during that speech or did so over the course of months—at speeches and using Twitter—can be debated, but no matter what you think, those people storming the Capitol did so with Trump in their hearts and believing he welcomed their actions.
As the weeks have passed and I continue to read coverage of the aftermath, I have often thought about how this could have been prevented.
Something has systemically failed in this country, and while some folks are screaming about big tech for de-platforming the president and a host of others spreading lies, I would argue their inability to do so sooner is the reason we are in this mess today.
At our newspapers, we don’t let all-out lies to be printed over and over again. We don’t allow for that type of irresponsibility to take place, because we would lose credibility. Open thought and discussion is welcomed on our opinion pages, but we have letters policies and quality controls in place to prevent poor content from leaching into the ink on our pages.
Social media has gotten to profit off that poor content for years, though, as they are “platforms and not media companies.”
Online misinformation about the election fell 73 percent after social media companies took Trump and his allies off their platforms, according to the Washington Post, citing research firm Zignal Labs.
Modern journalism has always had gatekeepers, and whether we like it or not, social media should have them, too.
For our country to move forward and function again, social media companies need to be held accountable and treated like what they are: media companies that sell advertising around content—just like we do.
They have the power to keep misinformation off their sites, and that can make a huge difference on if the country can heal or if we spiral into a civil war over the one true “Q”.
This week, we hold our breaths and hope nothing more bad happens as we must reset the clock on having a peaceful transition of power. Focus will shift to the impeachment of Trump for a second time and debating its merits.
While I feel Trump should pay for his sins and his actions in inciting what happened to deface democracy on Jan. 6, I also think it’s high time social media gets a look at their participation in all of this as well. Let’s not forget the “platforms” that played a far too important role in this insurrection before this is all over and done with.
At a minimum, the country should have learned they need a good editor or two.