Social media or government – which is now the more powerful?

social media
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Social media is, arguably, getting too big for its boots. Enter the term ‘India Twitter,’ ‘India Facebook’, or ‘India WhatsApp’, and you immediately see the problem. In fact, you can change the term ‘India’ for almost any nation on Earth and you see the same pattern emerging.

Social media is taking on national governments and winning. If national leaders break its rules, they can ban them, as Facebook and Twitter have done with Trump. Of course, the counterargument is that Trump used Facebook and Twitter to incite the attack on the Capitol and should be treated like a spoilt teenager.

Sometimes, the power is in the hands of the government, and as in the case in Nigeria, governments are able to ban social media apps.

Yet the influence of social media is huge, increasing all the time and it is hard to see where the finishing line might be.

TikTok was recently in the spotlight for allowing a post that asked people to film Orthodox Jews being beaten, which of course, led to people beating Orthodox Jews and filming it.

There is arrogance, too, which is shocking. The recent case in India where the head of social media giant Facebook was summoned to a meeting with a government official and simply failed to show up is one example.

Then there is the very public battle in Australia, where the government tried to force social media companies to recompense publishers for news content. The world watched, and the anti-climax was breathtaking as the government claimed a victory, and confidential deals we struck between the affected parties.

So, where does it end?

We know that social media has the potential to influence elections, which means it can wield enough influence to, well, change the course of history.

Will governments have to close down social media on the basis that it will become a real and present danger to democracy (or their version of it)? Will they actually be able to do that, and if they do, using legal and actual force, imagine the riots and backlash over the denial of free speech.

It is difficult to see where this struggle will end, and a struggle it surely is. Social media seems to be here to stay, but politicians are already looking at ways to curb its power.

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