Deplatforming can create a deep sense of erasure. // nadia_bormotova

deplatforming blues

Twitter’s post-January 6th suspension of Donald Trump’s account silenced his digital megaphone in an instant. While the immediate consequences for the former president were evident, the broader impact of account suspension on the everyday user is less understood. To untangle this unknown process, Shangwei Wu and Hui Fang delve into the intricacies of “account bombings,” or the termination of social media accounts in China, in a recent paper in New Media and Society.

The data consist of 115 bloggers’ posts about their account bombing experiences and interviews with 48 social media users whose accounts were suspended. The findings suggest that, beyond erasing extensive periods of one’s life encapsulated in accounts, along with perceived personal property, social media suspensions sever digital ties and evoke a sense of lost dignity, or a sense of worthlessness arising from lost self-respect. By suspending user accounts, then, social media platforms isolate individuals from indispensable bonds in the digitized world. This sets in motion a journey for users as they strive to reclaim their identities and salvage what was taken from them—memories, friendships, and social resources.

Social media platforms that transcend national boundaries leverage a power that mimics national governments’ capacities and erases social media users’ sense of self. That is, in a time when more and more of our personal narratives, memories, and lives are etched onto virtual walls, social media conglomerates have become judge, jury, and executioner to those individuals they determine problematic for their platform’s financial success. When media users depend upon online communities for maintaining health and well-being, how might governments curb media platforms’ use of power to support the health of their citizens?