The argument over political correctness on social media has reached its highest point yet.
Dateline January 8, 2021: The outgoing President of the United States of America, Donald John Trump, is officially banned from his Twitter account…after being accused of inciting the insurrection which occurred at the Capitol just days earlier…where and when, thousands marched on the Capitol in objection to the certification of the electoral college. Politico among other news organizations termed it as a “coup attempt.” And of course, following the insurrection, Trump wasn’t just banned from Twitter. He was also banned from virtually every other major social media platform: Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitch, Reddit, YouTube and even Pinterest.
If the sitting President of the United States can be essentially shut off from social media, it demonstrates something creepily true: You can have 80 million followers, you can be leader of the free world, and EVEN YOU aren’t exempt from a full social media ban. The ban on Donald Trump is much larger than him as an individual alone. It touches on one of the most heated issues of our times: political correctness.
The definition of political correctness, according to Oxford, is “the avoidance, often considered as taken to extremes, of forms of expression or action that are perceived to exclude, marginalize, or insult groups of people who are socially disadvantaged or discriminated against.” And here comes the catch: While Donald Trump has been “politically incorrect” quite a few times, he’s often been left off the hook, but this time his words didn’t fit the definition of “political correctness.” His words incited “an insurrection,” according to these big tech giants. The controversy the bans bring is pretty explicit in terms of opening the debate for the new question: how far should political correctness go? So here, we’re going to take a look at the history of political correctness, the pro and con arguments supporting it and opposing it (respectively), and why this could have huge ripple effects on the ways you might use social media.
When the term “political correctness” came into common usage in the 1970s (when it was mentioned in a novel), it was really a term of ridicule relating to taboo subjects. The history of political correctness is really summed up by an article written by Richard Bernstein for the New York Times more than 30 years ago. In the article, Bernstein stated, “across the country the term p.c., as it is commonly abbreviated, is being heard more and more in debates over what should be taught at the universities.” In the same article, Bernstein explained, “The term `politically correct,’ with its suggestion of Stalinist orthodoxy, is spoken more with irony and disapproval than with reverence.”
At that time, if you were politically correct, it meant you were careful not to offend anyone or adopt opinions that may be dismal to other individuals. Colleges were termed as politically correct by conservatives. They accused colleges of “brainwashing” and “subjecting” their general opinions on students, leaving no room for open-minded and objective opinions. Of course, some (or many) of these opinions were in one way or another, offensive.
Today is a much different case. With the introduction of social media, people who didn’t like being “politically correct” gained an entire world wide web to surf upon. From here, it got bigger and bigger. Now anyone could be a conservative talk show host, you could share your opinion with all of your delight. You could now create profiles with different names and some profile pictures of deceased politicians and hawks, engaging in banter of all sorts.
These opinions aren’t just hidden in the dark outer reaches of the internet. They’re everywhere. I discovered this myself when using discord for coding. In various chats, individuals would be discussing why the holocaust was justified. I experimented, heading to disboard.org, (the place to get advertised discord server links), and I ended up finding multiple discord servers of a Nazi background. It got worse. I even found a white supremacist discord server, riddled with memes supporting the KKK, and mentions of streaming “Birth of a Nation,” a 1915 silent-film which portrays the KKK as heroes. And guess what? The non-white population is termed as “an attack on society” and the remnant evil which remains. This is outrageously racist. Of course, the server was deleted not long after for promoting the alt-right conspiracy theory known as “QAnon.” But that’s just discord, a friendly app which lets you create servers for multiple topics and variations. Close it down in one place and it pops up in another, like an internet version of whack-a-mole.
In thousands of forums all the way to the corners of the internet, the alt-right lives. But what I’m mentioning only scratches the surface.
There’s no place for this in today’s society. These opinions are racially charged and one of the highest levels of harassment. People and companies who stand up against such opinions shouldn’t be chided for being “politically correct.” They should be lauded for their efforts. They should be commended for showing respect for other human beings. They should be held up as the voice of reason rather than the voice of hate.
By Yousaf Quereshi