Even before Inauguration Day, the feeling of exhalation and relief was palpable
It was an emotional Inauguration Day, to be sure.
The warned-about calamity never happened. The ceremony was calm and dignified, moving and utterly appropriate to the occasion.
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All over my social media feeds, the feeling of exhalation and relief was palpable. We felt, collectively, like we’d dodged a bullet. Our democracy was safe, but it was a “near death experience,” as I called it on Twitter to the response of hundreds.
Does anyone else feel like we've just come through a near-death experience for democracy?
— Sharon Waxman (@sharonwaxman) January 20, 2021
And just like that, Donald Trump was gone.
But what I realized in the calm that descended over Wednesday was that the calm had already been in the air because of the absence of Trump on social media for nearly two weeks.
Simply by banning him from the platform, Twitter managed to lower the level of invective and hysteria, nationally. We found ourselves free of the all-caps, downward punching by our combative lame-duck president. Free of the lies. Free of the accusations. Free of the bullying. And therefore we were free of the hysterical Twitter hordes that always came dragging in his wake — both from the left and the right. They were gone too.
As a result, the country has seemed calmer, overall. Twitter became a more sane and lower-volume platform, and by extension, the cable news networks have had less fodder to feed their own machine of perilous warnings about the president.
My impression was borne out by these scientific factors: I have been generally sleeping better, breathing better, focusing more easily and failing to jump at sudden noises.
Better yet, an actual research firm studied social platforms and found that banning Trump has had a salutary effect. The San Francisco-based Zignal Labs found that misinformation about election fraud plunged 73% after Trump was banned from Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Reddit.
Conversations about election fraud dropped from 2.5 million mentions to 688,000 mentions across several social media sites in the week after Trump was banned from Twitter.
This finding is critical, as it reinforces our understanding of what social media platforms do, amplifying opinion and information with a scale and speed never previously experienced in history. And so it follows that monitoring language — and limiting lies and misinformation — has a direct impact on our well-being as a country. And on me, as one single person.
One thing is for sure: The president sets the tone for the country. Today, President Joe Biden set a new tone in his inaugural speech, and in the messages he shared on Twitter (you can follow him here, he’s started from scratch because, you know, Trump wouldn’t share his followers).
For weeks now, Biden has been reinforcing his message of unifying the country. Reminding citizens that he intends to be a president for all, including those who oppose him. He did the same on this historic day.
“Politics doesn’t have to be a raging fire destroying everything in its path,” he said. “Every disagreement doesn’t have to be a cause for total war. We must reject the culture in which facts are manipulated and even manufactured. We have to be different than this. We have to be better than this.”
Yes, we must.
The Trump era will be defined by that one-term leader’s aggressive, aggrieved tone. It will also be defined by his Twitter feed that could have and should have been more thoughtfully gated. Going forward, Twitter will be defined by how it stands behind its new commitment to removing hate, incitement to violence and lies.
For the moment, we celebrate the sheer relief that today brings. As Biden put it: “Stop the shouting, lower the temperature. Let’s start afresh.”