With more than 64 million followers on Twitter and 201 million on Instagram, Selena Gomez knows the power of social media. And this morning the singer-actress got political and used her platforms to call for reform. In a message addressed to Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai, and YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, Gomez pointed out the link between the medium’s power players and the proliferation of hate speech and misinformation on the internet. Referencing the far-right violence in Washington D.C. yesterday, Gomez took tech leaders to task for not regulating their services. “Today is the result of allowing people with hate in their hearts to use platforms that should be used to bring people together and allow people to build community,” she wrote in a message posted to her Twitter.
Dominance on apps has been an essential aspect of Gomez’s career for years now. Formerly the most followed user on Instagram (in 2019, that title passed to Ariana Grande before soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo overtook her this year) and regularly atop the most liked accounts list, the platforms have offered her new ways to connect with her audience. But Gomez has long been vocal about the pros and cons of social media, sharing her experiences with cyberbullying and reflecting on the warped worldview that can result from too much time spent online. While promoting The Dead Don’t Die in 2019, she questioned the prevalence of Instagram and the impact it has had on young users. “I think our world is going through a lot, obviously. But for my generation, specifically, social media has been terrible,” she told an audience during a Cannes Film Festival panel. “It scares me when you see how exposed these young boys and girls are. They’re not really aware of the news or anything going on. I think it’s dangerous for sure; I don’t think people are getting the right information sometimes.”
She’s often used her platforms to promote the issues she’s passionate about and discuss them with her Gen-Z fans. This June, she handed her Instagram account over to politician and voting rights activist Stacey Abrams as part of the #ShareTheMicNow campaign. Last May, she took to Twitter to advocate for reproductive rights. In the past, she’s described her online presence as “intentional,” and her latest update reflects that.
Yesterday’s riots made the real-world repercussions of Trump’s election conspiracy theories even more evident. Since his loss to President-elect Joe Biden in November, Trump has used tweets to question the authenticity of voting results and assert his refusal to cede power. Social media has long served as the president’s primary venting method and served as a powerful tool for hate groups and conspiracy theorists. Trump’s tweets are often dogwhistles for extremists and whether he was making use of the #FakeNews or encouraging his followers to ‘liberate Michigan’ after his loss in the state the’s been able to stir up trouble in under 280 characters. Because he is the outgoing President, platforms have been reluctant to limit his accounts, despite frequent calls to do so. Finally, in light of the polarizing video Trump posted addressing the rioters, Twitter temporarily banned his account for 12-hours while Facebook issued an indefinite ban until the transition of power is complete. These actions only occurred after public outcry and did little to rectify the damage that had already been done.
Free speech purists may debate the logic of any form of censorship online, but there is a growing movement towards regulating what can be posted on digital platforms. After a series of viral conspiracy theories—Pizzagate, QAnon, and 5G technology fear-mongering among them—the idea that all information should be accessible regardless of its validity no longer seems sustainable. With outrage over the Capitol Hill riots currently flooding social feeds and high profile users like Gomez calling for action, the moment for significant changes in terms of service may finally be upon us. The negligence that let far-right rage run rampant is tearing the nation apart. As Gomez and several others have pointed out, it’s time for the corporations who’ve grown rich off user-generated content to step up and do right by their users. “You have all failed the American people today,” Gomez wrote. “I hope you’re going to fix things moving forward.”