As is known worldwide, the Twitter account of Donald J. Trump, the former US President, was suspended just two days after his supporters stormed the US Capitol on January 6, 2021. He was also banned from using other social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, etc. This has led to a general discussion about the impact of social media and how to act responsibly on it.
Responsibility on social media
There has long been a common understanding that all users are responsible for their own content and must abide by the rules of the platforms. In general, it is illegal to post anything that is disturbing, hateful, offensive, discriminatory, threatening, harassing or defamatory. As a result, social media companies have left most of the responsibility for content to users, intervening almost exclusively in the case of very clear violations such as posts that are clearly sexual or glorify violence.
The most recent example of a public figure whose social media actions have caused unrest both nationwide and worldwide is the 45th U.S. president, Donald J. Trump. With 88 million Twitter followers and an account that was the sixth largest on the platform before the ban, according to Socialbakers, it's clear that his message has a wide reach, whether you agree with former President Trump's policies and beliefs or not. Furthermore, according to Twitter, he was the most tweeted about person in the world in 2020.
But for many, he is also the clearest example of how social influence can be abused. His actions and those of others in his circle have sharpened the debate about what rules or guidelines should govern responsible behavior on social media, especially for politicians. But also what role social media platform providers play in enforcing those rules and how users should be held accountable.
One possible solution could be to raise awareness among social media users through constant educational efforts. At the same time, a large part of the population is calling for more fact-checking, moderation and monitoring by social media platforms, but without prescribing too much about how one can use one's profile and what information a person is allowed to share - as long as no harm is done. This would certainly be a good step forward.
The dangers of misinformation
One of the biggest potential dangers of social media is undoubtedly the potential spread of misinformation, especially in areas where this can cause significant harm. When creating or sharing content on social media, integrity is always key. However, not everyone has the best intentions, and some even go so far as to exploit social media and its influence to further their own agenda, no matter what the consequences.
A Blatant Example - Covid-19 and President Trump
Many of Trump's supporters have perceived every word of his 36 daily tweets as an official government statement, including his factually false tweets about the Covid 19 pandemic. In addition to refusing to wear a mask in public - despite the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's recommendation to wear a mask since March 2020 - these actions on Twitter have led to nationwide protests against government policies to combat the pandemic. After refusing to wear a mask for three months and pleading with his staff to set a good example, former President Trump finally posted a picture of himself wearing a mask in July 2020. He tweeted also:
"We are united in our efforts to defeat the invisible China virus, and many people say that it's patriotic to wear a face mask when you can't keep Social Distancing."
But was it too little, too late? There is little doubt that the misinformation campaign has made the outcome of the pandemic so far enormously worse. After the nationwide division caused by the 45th president's tweets about Covid-19, Twitter took action and began monitoring his account. The Social media platform began fact-checking Trump's tweets about the virus in May 2020.
After the continued ban on social media platforms, even after the end of his term, Trump has his own Website where he plans to keep his fans up to date with news from his wife Melania Trump and himself. According to The Guardian, the former US president will even create his own social media platform soon. "And I think that's something that's going to be the hottest ticket into social media, it's going to completely redefine the game, and everyone is going to be waiting and watching to see what exactly President Trump does. But it's going to be its own platform," claims Jason Miller, senior adviser to the former US president.
The positive effects of social media
Despite the abuse by some individuals, it is important to remember that social media has also had many positive effects on society and the enormous potential for good needs to be recognized. Certain movements have brought society together to strive for positive change. Social media provides a platform for people with good intentions and ideas to unite and collaborate to build a better society together. Influencers*, individuals with a significant audience base, can thus become powerful catalysts to advance the noble causes they pursue, no matter how big or small the cause. Some examples follow.
One incredible example is the #BlackLivesMatter movement, which began as a result of George Floyd's murder by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. Since then, the world has united on social media platforms to fight against Floyd's injustice. In 2020, #BlackLivesMatter was the second most popular hashtag and George Floyd was the third most tweeted about person in the world. Numerous influencers, including celebrities around the world, have also united, digitally sharing their support as well as protesting injustice on the streets of their cities. Swiss influencers have also taken action to raise awareness of the movement.
Another movement that has been launched since the global pandemic has been the Support Small Business movement. Currently with over 26 million Instagram posts under the hashtag #SupportSmallBusiness, influencers have shared a common awareness of the negative impact the pandemic and government regulations have had on small businesses, especially in the restaurant industry. An ideal example is Family of 5's (FO5) travel blog, which has a #FO5Support initiative which supports small businesses in Switzerland with the help of social media.
Also a movement that has started since the global pandemic is the #StayHome movement. Since the first lockdown in the spring of 2020, many Swiss influencers have joined forces to promote the importance of social distancing and staying home by leading by example.
In addition, numerous Swiss fashion influencers, such as Luisa Rossi, have promoted the wearing of masks by showing how stylish masks can be.
Tips for responsible behaviour
There are many creative ways to show responsibility on social media and still have a voice and stand up for what you believe in. It is therefore important to always maintain the highest level of integrity, no matter how large or small the audience. Everyone has a role to play in this matter, and users with meaningful influence must lead by example. Even companies like Kingfluencers are taking up the torch in the debate and actively seeking to provide guidance and advice to influencers and other players in the ecosystem on how to harness the true potential of social media and social influence for people and brands alike.
* Sherriene Redha is Social Media and Marketing Officer at the Zurich-based social media and influencer marketing agency Kingfluencers. She is currently studying Business Administration in Lucerne and specializes in performance, content marketing and storytelling.