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A Painful Reminder. A Moment for Change

Our mission has never been more urgent.
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A mob incited by the sitting president of the United States attacked the Capitol to try to subvert the results of a democratic election. Bearing Confederate flags and other white-supremacist symbols, the insurrectionists ransacked our nation’s seat of government. Five people lost their lives.

At the same time, Black, Muslim, immigrant and other people who have been violently attacked and killed for protesting for basic human rights watched as the attempted coup was met with minimal law-enforcement response — underscoring their long-held knowledge of whom the police actually serve and protect.

We’re saddened to see the destruction in hallways we have walked many times, worried for the safety of our friends and colleagues in a city we have called home, and angry that so many warnings went unheeded.

We are living through a pandemic, racism, authoritarianism, an environmental crisis, state-sanctioned violence and oppression against people of color and other marginalized communities — not to mention the trauma, sickness, isolation and stress so many are enduring personally.

At Free Press, we focus on media and technology. And these awful times have shown us time and again how much media and tech are woven into these overlapping crises, how they can help and how they can make things much, much worse.

The attack on Congress was our latest painful reminder of what happens when companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube fail to act not just against Donald Trump but against anyone who uses these platforms to incite violence and spread hate, conspiracies and disinformation.

We call again on all social-media platforms to permanently take down Trump for his countless violations and unquestionable danger to our democracy; to remove all people and organizations seeking to amplify and organize racism, violence and other threats to democracy; and to ban calls to arms across their sites. We urge these companies to take the concrete actions proposed by the Change the Terms coalition and others to stop the spread of hate and violence.

We must also confront the role that broadcast and cable TV have played in fomenting hate and disinformation. Time and again these outlets have propped up Trump and his election conspiracies, aired lies about the pandemic, and so much more. Fox News, Sinclair, Newsmax, OANN and others have abandoned journalism in favor of dangerous propaganda and incendiary hoaxes — all of which have pushed our country to the brink.

All of this has been allowed to happen due to government policies that have given a few powerful companies control of the media while ensuring racism remains a central part of the system’s DNA. Lawmakers, regulators and these companies must be held accountable for creating and exploiting that system. And that’s just a start.

In two weeks, we’ll have a new presidential administration alongside a new Congress. There will be much talk of repair — and that’s important. But the need for repair goes far beyond what happened on Wednesday or even the past four years.

We have yet to truly reckon with centuries of racism and white supremacy that have shaped our government, our media, ourselves. We need truth and reconciliation. We need reparations to repair historical harms that our government and media institutions have inflicted on the Black community in promoting and upholding white supremacy in our society.

And we need to seize this critical juncture not as a moment to return to the status quo but as a moment to radically expand what’s possible in Washington (and not just Washington). We need to redesign the policies and structures to operate in ways that actually help people, that improve their lives, that build community, that create opportunity, that pursue justice.

We remain committed, as our mission statement says, to change the media to transform democracy to realize a just society. That mission has never been more urgent.

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