As the United States moves closer to Nov. 3 judgment day, the two presidential candidates —Republican re-electionist Donald Trump and Democrat challenger Joe Biden —have started exchanging accusations of corruption in an effort to convince voters to support them.
As both parties stepped up attacks, the social media giants —Facebook and Twitter —were caught in the middle of the “word war” as the two tech companies were accused of censorship.
The two popular social media platforms had restricted the spread of a controversial story published by the New York Post about Joe Biden’s link to a Ukrainian businessman.
The conservative Republicans and press immediately cried censorship, a violation of freedom of expression after executives at Facebook and Twitter labelled the story as a possible “misinformation.”
Trump’s allies in the US Senate have summoned Twitter’s chief executive officer to answer questions on why it also blocked the account of the president’s press secretary.
Twitter had initially blocked users from posting links to the New York Post story or photos because it said the reports were unconfirmed.
Users who were attempting to share the story were shown a notice saying: “We can’t complete this request because this link has been identified by Twitter or our partners as being potentially harmful.”
Twitter also justified the restrictions by citing “[t]he origins of the materials” included in the article, which contained material supposedly pulled from a computer that had been left allegedly by Hunter Biden at a Delaware computer repair shop in April 2019.
Twitter policies prohibit “directly distributing content obtained through hacking that contains private information,” it added.
Facebook also placed restrictions on linking to the article, saying there were questions about the validity of the New York Post story. “This is part of our standard process to reduce the spread of misinformation,” a Facebook statement said.
Later, Twitter allowed the controversial post to be shared after pressures mounted due to protest from the conservatives led by Trump himself and his allies in the US Senate.
The credibility of the American press has come under fire as public perception indicated the media have taken sides between two opposing political parties. It has indeed become partisan to some extent as people see CNN attacking the Republicans and Fox News defending fiercely the US administration.
In a September 2020 Gallup poll, the American trust on American media declined to nearly 40 percent as Trump continued to label news organizations critical of his administration as “fake news.” He even has called them “enemies of the people.”
There was a time when the American people looked up to the press with high regard, with its rating reaching nearly 70 percent at the height of the Watergate scandal in the 1970s.
The Trump administration has also accused social media platforms of taking the side of the Democrats by censoring damaging stories published by reputable newspapers, like the New York Post.
The sinking credibility of the press is everywhere. The American press is not alone as a survey early this year made by Oxford-based Reuters Institute showed that Southeast Asian media have a much lower trust rating than the US press.
In the Philippines, for instance, the public trust was lower than 40 percent as the country’s populist leader continued to attack media organizations seen to be critical to his administration’s war on drugs policy.
Rodrigo Duterte’s government, according to a 2017 Freedom House survey, had hired an army of keyboard warriors to discredit the professional media and hijack the narrative of the drug war.
The professional media remain as the most credible source of information even if more and more people in the Philippines are relying on social media for news and information.
Journalists are trained to provide accurate and reliable information than some people spreading propaganda and disinformation in the various social media platforms.
Duterte and his allies have also targeted the nosy media, shutting down the country’s largest broadcast network, ABS-CBN, and swamping Rappler, an online news platform, with numerous corporate cases and convicting its editor of cyberlibel.
It has also threatened other news organizations and fabricated incredible plots implicating several independent news organizations, like Vera Files, the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism and the National Union of Journalists in the Philippines.
The closure of ABS-CBN and conviction of Maria Ressa have sent a chilling effect on the local media, which have become timid and careful in reporting adverse stories against the administration.
There are still many courageous local journalists who continue to push back and expose wrongdoings and call out the government whenever they see injustices, inequalities, corruption and neglect at the risks of being labelled “terrorist” sympathizers or members of rebel groups.
Media executives and their business owners who are afraid of potential repercussions from the government have acted as effective gatekeepers to filter adverse reports.
They are only protecting their own business interests and they would not allow the government come down hard on their more profitable and lucrative ventures so they are willing to sacrifice truth-telling in the media.
The saddest part is when journalists themselves hold back the punches and practice self-censorship and act as propagandists for the government, and other vested interests.
It should not go back to the unpleasant experience of the press nearly five decades ago when the dictator, Ferdinand Marcos, muzzled the press under strict censorship.
The media loses its credibility if the public sees it as the mouthpiece of the government. It’s role in a free and democracy society is to give voice to the powerless and hold the mighty and powerful accountable.
In a vibrant democracy, a free and independent media is a must. Journalists must not be cowed into submission and must defend freedom on expression and freedom of the press at all costs.
Journalists must restore the public’s trust in the media by holding on to time-honored principles of accuracy, fairness, impartiality and transparency.
That’s the only way to earn the public’s trust and restore the credibility of the media.