We must all speak up for democracy
| January 21, 2021 1:00 AM
The insurrection upon our nation's Capitol on Jan. 6 was a natural consequence to the massive misinformation campaign that has been launched by former President Donald Trump and perpetuated by his enablers in congress since the election in November. In 63 out of 64 instances, courts across the nation found no credible evidence of widespread voter fraud. There is no consequence for making up rumors and spreading them on social media but in a court of law, under oath, lies and hearsay are not admissible. They are not evidence. In fact, there are consequences for lying or misrepresenting the truth under oath.
Fortunately, there are honorable patriots in the Republican Party who serve with integrity and hold the sanctity of our democratic institutions above the opportunism of short-term political gain. Embarrassingly, there were over 147 congressional members who sponsored Trump’s election fraud conspiracy (including Idaho’s Representative Fulcher) and some 70% of Republicans nationwide who ultimately came to believe the election was stolen. How could this happen when nearly every court, with overwhelmingly Republican judges, found no credible evidence that would substantiate voter fraud? This election saw record court challenges and recounts making it the most validated election in history.
Social media platforms own a lot of the responsibility for perpetuating misinformation. The ad model, which drives profitability, favors sensational content and conflict over truth, facts and reality. Humans are 7 times more likely to click and share something that provokes anger, outrage or shock than something that appeals to reason. Outrage sells, it is shared and it is believed. Truth, not so much.
The action by Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Pinterest, YouTube, Instagram and others to suspend Trump’s accounts as well as a few of his enablers represent a monumental step toward protecting the public media space from social and political manipulation and deterioration. Twitter first began censoring Trump’s tweets after weeks of his baseless election fraud claims. The president’s incitement of violence at the Capitol on Jan. 6 apparently was the last straw. The same fate was handed to his advisors Rudy Giuliani and Michael Flynn who were also de-platformed. A few days later Amazon halted service to Parler, the Twitter alternative made famous recently for its popularity among far right extremists and their advocates. Apple and Google booted the app from their app stores. Collectively, this represents a momentous shift in responsibility of social media platforms to moderate public dialogue to protect the integrity of the media landscape and ultimately public safety.
This was absolutely the right call for these platforms to take responsibility to protect our nation from further damage from a narcissistic president who was apparently willing to threaten the safety of a co-equal branch of government for his own objectives. This move does, however, invite a larger conversation on how we can protect the public from potential abuse by big tech on what are now perceived as public platforms. The First Amendment protects the public from government control of free speech, but it doesn’t protect the public from private/corporate control of free speech. We, as a society, will have to work together to figure out what is the appropriate regulatory approach to ensure open, free public forums that also don’t encourage and promote misinformation, literally driving us crazy and ultimately threatening national security and public welfare. Tech companies, for their part, need to revise their algorithms to discourage, rather than propagate radicalization.
Restoring faith in media and rediscovering a consensus reality are the most critical factors in our mission to heal this nation. Of course the conventional news channels, television, print and radio, need to internalize this event as a learning moment and recommit to honesty and integrity in reporting.
Consumers, like you and I, need to do better at discerning media, validating sources and recognizing bias in reporting. We also need to recognize our own biases and challenge our assumptions. If there is one thing I’ve continued to learn in my life, it is that the world is always more complex than I previously believed it to be. The convenient truth about conspiracy theories is that they offer a simplified, comprehensive understanding of everything and all information always serves to reinforce the conspiracy. This makes it really hard to get out once one becomes a believer. What makes a fantastic conspiracy theory like QAnon so compelling is that it takes the next step and empowers everyday believers to be part of the solution.
Now is a time to hold our leadership accountable. It is criminal that our elected officials perpetuated lies toxic to our democracy for their short-term political gain. This is the antithesis to leadership. If we do not hold elected officials and others in leadership accountable, we will continue to get more of the same.
For four years I’ve avoided discussing national politics in this office despite the horror that has been this presidency. My intention has been to focus on issues relevant to the city of Sandpoint and its citizens. Since our nation’s Capitol was stormed by self-described patriots on Jan. 6, however, it has become clear to me that we are a nation at the brink of civil war and the time to remain silent is over. I must do what I can to save our nation from collapse. As a true patriot, I will continue to speak truth to fiction and expose anti-Americanism for what it is. I expect every other elected official to do the same.
Please join me for the Mayor’s Roundtable to discuss all this and more this Friday, Jan. 22, at 4 p.m. on Facebook Live: Mayor Shelby Rognstad.
Shelby Rognstad is the mayor of Sandpoint. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.