Social Media, or, Pandoras Firehose. A Democratic Dialogue.

Mike Flynn
9 min readJan 10, 2021


We’re all talking about our soon-to-be-former President and his recent bans from Twitter and Facebook.

I recently listened to a podcast at the recommendation of my friend, which discussed this topic on the eve of the now infamous day Wednesday, January 6th.

It’s entitled Facebook, Twitter and Trump.

The host Ben Thompson used a fast moving Socratic approach with his co-host, to span a gamut of opinions and possibilities. And what a variety of thoughts, feelings and findings it evoked for me!

I felt myself disagreeing vehemently at times, but the process was a good one. And the end result for me, and for him in his own words, was quite productive.

What made the discussion productive: it started with basic arguments and ascended the ladder of insight. As my mentor expressed it, there is a wisdom-hierarchy of insight:

* Starting with Individual opinions
* The realize there are more than one opinion
* The realization that there are infinite opinions
* And ultimately, the search for Truth

Subsequent to this episode, Mr. Thompson wrote what I believe was a powerful conclusion to the inquiry raised in his podcast — should Facebook and Twitter ban the President. He did this considering that there were equally good arguments on both ‘sides’, and then Personally choosing what he believed on analysis to be the best fit: .

If only such an analysis was feasible — I believe it is — and utilized across the board when discussing complex choices we need to consider as individuals and as a nation. Mankind would cease so much suffering. The Iroquois Confederacy are known to have reached seven generations into the future to evaluate the impact of important decisions.

Here we are faced this week not with a consideration of seven generations but with such shortsighted individuals the extent to which they couldn’t assess the deep lingering impact of their actions beyond self-gratifying personal elation and ill-conceived demagogic popularity wins.

As a brief aside — the difference between the anarchic horrors of the start of the French revolution versus that of America was that the American revolution was ultimately guided by many tempered and wise persons. This is not to say that our ‘Founding Fathers’ were infinitely wise or perfectly moral, yet they were able to maintain a focus of inquiry for long periods — months during the constitutional convention — weighing the benefits and risks of many forms and nuances of government, prior to the creation of our current form.

Returning to the topic at hand — the Trump, Twitter and this podcast. I made many notes as the discussion sparked many nerves and considerations. I’d like to share some anecdotes from what I wrote in hopes it will continue the conversation further. I believe our country is at a crossroads and we need dedicated, well considered recommendations for how to handle the new norm of unprecedented circumstances. To rise to the challenge we’ve got to elevate our abilities of contemplations and analysis, and I’d like to contribute where I can.

I hope you’ll listen to the podcast and read my corresponding commentary below.

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The host mentioned the difficulty in “Unilaterally doing something as a private person CEO”, in the context of allowing Jack Dorsey to block someone’s account

My commentary on his commentary:
People making choices all the time. It’s in the nature of the personal choice that we’ve got to dig deeper.

Was it a reaction? Did it come from one-sided perspective or even bigotry? Was the choice made after consideration of multiple opinions? Was it made juxtaposing as much consideration as possible, with a view of the future outcome of one’s own decision?

There is a world of difference between the protections we’ve set up against someone trying to act in self-interest, and a considered, soul-searching decision.

*Late in the podcast the host Mr. Thompson says something similar, in his own words.

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From the hosts: “In the 20th century economy became the number one political rallying cry instead of democracy” [paraphrased]

My commentary on his commentary:
Yes our number one priority should be Democracy (capital D) not ‘economy’. Democracy (capital D) to me is the poetic, visionary aspect of enabling a group of people to mature beyond the organizing structures of mere opinion-based thought, to a search for truth.

Democracy certainly needs a healthy economy, or else its people don’t have the time and energy to consider for themselves. And Democracy is certainly supported by the forms of well organized government and universal suffrage (democracy little ‘d’). However, a tell-tale sign of a fascistic society is when economy ‘trumps’ other considerations, and similarly, when a humanistic vision of a country is lost to an endless array of mechanical procedure.

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Regarding Mr. Thompson’s commentary on “Subjectivity”

My commentary on his commentary:
Too often I hear the concept of opinion argument, fact-based-argument etc. What is really needed is a shared appreciation of what contemplative analysis is. Easier said than done. It takes reading and experiences. So here’s one that comes to mind.

How was the sub-planet Pluto discovered?

The process was laborious: Clyde Tombaugh would photograph the same part of sky several days apart and use a Zeiss Blink Comparator to detect the motion of a nearby planet against the more distant “fixed” stars. Once Tombaugh got going toward the end of 1929, the discovery came remarkably rapidly: on February 18, 1930, he found the distant planet on plates taken on the 23rd and 29th of January. — from

Plates used in discovery of Pluto

Here they are in more detail, extracted from the images above, can you see Pluto?

The ‘facts’ if you want to call them that were always there. If we consider facts as existential phenomena, Pluto had ‘existed’ and its light had been hitting earth ever so slightly for billions of years. How did Clyde Tombaugh even have a telescope, let alone the insight to utilize it to take photographic plates at that particular area of space on those particular days? It was not just a one in a billion opinion amongst other opinions. No, it was the cultivation of a matured ability to creatively consider the work of others, analyze it, and come up with a verifiable theory.

This process can set us free.

This process was used by the delegates of the constitutional convention to create our form of government, and now as we have to consider further complex decisions, it can set enable us to know we can rise to the challenge and make appropriate, nuances, critical choices.

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The host mentioned “Exculpation of accountability by laws”

My commentary on his commentary:
As my mentor would say — Nature likes bows not knots. Plastics that won’t degrade for thousands of years and poison humans and animals that ingest them are ‘knots’. Rules that are set up with such precision that they take away room for personal consideration are knots. Consider the case of an immigrations officer receiving a traveler whose passport has expired within the last day, and could be renewed at a local consulate. The traveler was delayed out of their control by circumstances, and would otherwise have arrived while their passport was still valid. If the law allows for personal discretion of the officer, the officer could assess the credibility of the person (which yes opens up the possibility of bias), and potentially allow the person to pass and immediately renew their passport. Without personal discretion, the traveler might be turned away from a potentially long flight and all the consequences, and ensuing frustration, even sadness and anger. This is a microcosm of the societal choices we must make, to determine the kind of man made artifices in which we live.

Will we create bows or knots? Will we lean toward maturing human beings to make conscious well considered, accountable decisions, or will we strip them of that ability and rely on more and more strict laws.

Writing off of personal accountability through rules is a hallmark of a failed society. When all we hear is “well what does the law say”, “what do the courts say”, “isn’t there a law for that”, we are no longer speaking to an individual, we are speaking to a parroter of a doctrine of rules. That is no free society.

Laws are wonderful and provide an excellent firewall against factions, but the details of how they are created, the room they provide to breath or lack thereof, and how they are enforced are everything.

Is it easier to make a society work in which people are sufficiently able to make judgement calls, No. But the other option is a gradual descent into dystopia. Was it easy to go to the moon, with all the suffering in the world at the time, and all the other things the money could have been spent on? No. However the moment we stop seeking to elevate ourselves to grow as a greater Humanity, the sooner we devolve into bickering, partisanship, and phobias of our neighbors trying to take our piece of an artificial limited pie.

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The host mentions where in the ‘Stack’ of appropriate discretionary action do social media companies exist.

My commentary on his commentary:
This analogy by Mr. Thompson opened up a lot for me.

For social media to work there are a variety of services required:
Electricity, internet service providers, computer and mobile phone manufacturers, app marketplaces, advertisers, internet search, the social media companies themselves, their data and algorithms, and the users to post and view.

On down the ‘stack’ each plays some part to make social media posts reach viewers.

The points proffered by the host was essentially: at what level is it appropriate for a social media company to silence the president of the united states. Are they the appropriate level of the ‘stack’. As an example, would it be appropriate to shut off the electricity of anyone who wants to read what the president is saying — certainly not. Would it be appropriate to cut off computer sales if you like the president? No.

Then it gets more nuanced and interesting. Is it appropriate to not advertise on a platform given it is the megaphone for the president. Maybe. Is it appropriate to prevent political ads on a twitter or facebook, and why? Now it gets much more interesting. Is it appropriate to change the algorithms used to recommend posts (on facebook or twitter, for example) to avoid showing the president’s messaging? It depends? And finally, is it appropriate to cut off the stream of distribution of the president’s ideas and directions entirely? This was the core conundrum being considered by the hosts.

Again, in the end Mr. Thompson concluded that given the risks of damage to our democracy and liberal society, and given it was an extraordinary situation, that the answer was yes. And yet, he admitted that it was equally plausible to argue the opposite, and on very strong grounds.

What I appreciate from this discussion was that it came from multiple angles. It considered benefits and costs of multiple courses of action.

This is what we need in our discourse. We as a people need to demand that we raise our children to be well versed to think for themselves and to be creative. Which by the way means removal of standardized tests in the devastating format and context in which they are now used. We need to work to give opportunities to our fellow citizens to have time to contemplate, not reinforce reactions. This may mean that we have to make similar hard choices.

Perhaps as suggested in the recent documentary ‘The Social Dilemma’, we need to enforce rules around what data can be collected and how the efficacy and use of recommendation algorithms on social media. Social media is a new and powerful force that up to now has been unchecked.

No matter what the proposal, we need to empower capable, just individuals with the time and influence to thoroughly contemplate and propose initiatives that will have a great impact on future generations, and on this generation.



Mike Flynn

For whatever it's worth, I'm seeking to share any wisdom, insights and gifts of learning I've been fortunate enough to receive.