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The News Media of the Digital Age

The election for “the soul of our democracy” is also the battle for the soul of social media.

By Hunter Stephens 9/29/20

In the coming months, we will watch one of the most important elections to ever face the country unfold between Donal Trump and Joe Biden. The campaigns have been underway for a while now and both sides are continuing to put out daily messaging and ads on television and social media. Using platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat to interact with voters, the two candidates and their campaigns have seen the need to use this type of media to engage their constituencies. However, what happens when these platforms decide that they no longer will support one of the candidate’s messaging?

One of Trump’s latest strategies has been attacking the absentee ballot and the use of mail-in voting. He has been encouraging voters not to trust that their mail-in ballots and instead to vote by mail and then voting additionally in person. Many experts have raised concerns with this messaging because voting twice is a serious issue that is also a federal crime. However, no matter the amount of explaining experts can do there are still many people who will only believe what they hear directly from the president himself or what is heavily circulated on social media. Where people get their information from is becoming a major issue in our society and is having a big impact on this election. We are now seeing social media platforms retaliate in a way we have never seen before.

Both Facebook and Twitter have begun to include warnings on both candidate’s posts about voting with additional information for consumers to read that explains the laws about voting and how the process works. The hope of these efforts is that individuals will not be misguided by what is being said by the president and that the election will take place in the fairest and easy way possible. This action is being taken as these platforms feel that they have an ethical responsibility to qualify certain content that is being published on their sites. The moral dilemma here is that the platforms are not attempting to look like they are biased to one political leaning or the other and have a duty to uphold all speech on their sites in the interest of protecting the first amendment. However, there is also a duty that these platforms have in ensuring information that is seen as news, such as the President of the United States’ direct communication with the American people, is truthful. This has to be done to ensure that social media is not used as a weapon to spread misinformation leading up to the election.

I believe tags like these are important because there is a growing number of voters who get their news directly from online sources. If the president was communicating to the public through a print or broadcast source I believe similar annotations would be attached as it is a journalist’s responsibility to ensure the information that they are reporting is truthful. This connects directly to what we are discussing this week in class about the relationship between innovations and regulations. As Twitter and Facebook become the new sources of news media for the country, they need to begin to regulate themselves and stay accountable to the standards that are expected of reputable news outlets.

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