Please read the first part here.
I would assert that while no country would want to repeat the mistakes of ancient Greek democracy, we’ve nevertheless seen it reappear on social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook. And the same perverse outcomes and injustices have been the result. Since 2012 Twitter has suspended a variety of people for a variety of reasons, but more recently critics say that Twitter is targeting conservatives for their political views. They get banished because they depart from the orthodoxy of the elites running these companies. Like Socrates, the charge ends up influencing the impressionable and putting the wrong ideas into people’s heads.
Facebook was started by a couple of college kids trying to get girls. Twitter was begun by college kids as well. It was supposed to be just a simple thing to update status and for social unity in small groups, “Hi I just finished getting a burger.” Even the name was meant to reflect the trivial nature of the platform. As Jack Dorsey said himself in a 2009 Los Angeles Times interview, “… we came across the word ‘twitter’, and it was just perfect. The definition was ‘a short burst of inconsequential information,’ and ‘chirps from birds’. And that’s exactly what the product was.”
Now they have evolved into powerful, multi-billion dollar ad platforms that have monetized everyone who uses them. Facebook and Twitter are not the products, the users and their data are.
What did not change was the attitude of the owners. Like Athens, both Facebook and Twitter are a reflection of the attitudes and political leanings of its rulers, who in turn seek to impose them on the masses. And when you look at how they are set up you see the majoritarian democracy of Greece. Your posts get “likes” or “shares” with others, signifying the approval of society. There are no downvotes because if you say something that offends the social media society they complain to the rulers that your post was bad-think and departed from acceptable standards. Entire mobs can appear and report you in mass to show just how great your offense was against doctrine. And like the democratic mob in ancient Greece, they demand the punishment of banishment for it. If enough people complain, you get voted out. You have no defense, no rebuttal, you don’t even get to know who your accusers are. You just get the notice that you either get to remain or told you must remove your wrong-think to avoid banishment, or just be ejected. That doesn’t mean there aren’t privileged citizens in these social media cities; just as in ancient Greece, most of the things that will get you banished involved giving insult or discomfort to protected classes of people using the platform, women, minorities, LGBT persons, and other underrepresented groups that are not specified and can include anyone the authorities want it to include at any time. It is no small irony that these majoritarian institutions in social media owe their very existence to the protections of speech and expression that our republic affords. Even as they seem hostile to them.
If a republic was run this way, it would be considered tyranny. In this country, you get to make a defense, be faced by your accuser and receive due process. Your rights of freedom of speech, expression and worship are protected. Greek democracy-based social media platforms that only exist for a privileged minority, and that is the source of the outrage and friction when people get banished for thinking apart from the orthodoxy of the herd. People who live in a Republic find majoritarian democracy is actually just a socially favored minority imposing tyranny on the majority. Anyone who makes waves with a significant following gets a cup of hemlock. And as Plato said of democracy, so it appears to be also true of the big social media platforms, they pass into despotism.
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