The free-for-all witnessed in Washington DC on 6 January as a mob of President Donald J. Trump’s supporters ~ irresponsibly egged on by the President himself for which he must bear criminal culpability ~ stormed the US Congress and wrought untold damage both physical and psychological on the structures of the world’s oldest democracy is not just condemnable but contemptible.
In the apportioning of blame for this tragic turn of events, Mr Trump is rightly copping most of it. But what of the enablers? Because at the crux of this crisis on the continent of Circe, as it were, is the necessity to evolve the means by which Odysseus’ men turned into swine by the eponymous sorceress can be restored back to human form.
First, let us deal with those within the Trump universe. The disgraced President has worked assiduously to create an alternate reality replete with conspiracy theories, self-serving lies, infantile outbursts, and a lynch mob mentality. The cult which has bought into this grotesque fantasy numbers in the millions.
More importantly, the platforms he has used to create this dystopian world have been varied ~ reality TV shows, leveraging the obsession with celebritycum-business news in mainstream media and, vitally, his use of social media. The last-mentioned of these is the key. For all their faults, and there are many, television and print media are regulated to the extent that they are morally responsible and legally liable for the content telecast or published by them respectively.
Not so, social media. Ironically, possibly the only thing the Twitter-addicted US President got right in policy terms over the past four years was his effort to bring transnational digital platforms under some sort of regulatory framework. But because his intentions were so obviously suspect, the pushback was strong.
The Capitol disgrace the world has witnessed is but a mirror image of the anything goes approach enabled by the vicious abuse, fantastical fabrications, criminal defamation, cancel culture, and worse on unaccountable social media. President Trump is only following the template to promote his own biases and megalomania.
Few would disagree with Jack Dorsey and Marc Zuckerberg acting with alacrity in banning the US President from Twitter and Facebook indefinitely given the potential the latter’s incendiary comments have to ignite hate and violence.
But consider, for a moment, if the leader of the so-called free world was a politician whose worldview Mr Zuckerberg and his megacorporation was ideologically simpatico to and he had had promoted a modern-day equivalent of the storming of the Bastille instead of the Capitol.
Would the reaction have been as swift, or would the response be a shrug of the shoulders premised on the argument that social media can’t be held legally responsible for what individuals post?