By Lauren Humphreys | Staff Columnist
Social media is the ultimate marker of 21st century social (or perhaps, anti-social) interaction. The ever increasing digital dominance of platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook make face-to-face human interaction a rare daily occurrence. We do not need studies to show us this — anyone who steps out of the house for more than a few moments can observe firsthand the absorbing addiction of these supposedly social networks.
Unfortunately, social media platforms have come to prominence at a disgraceful political time in U.S. history. White supremacists run rampant, hyper-conservative alleged sexual abusers are being appointed to high court offices and perhaps worst of all, a racist, sexist reality television star and self-proclaimed billionaire is our Commander-in-Chief. With such an administration in place, divisiveness amongst the people comes easy. Of course, these issues were not a product of the 2016 presidential election — but rather exacerbated by it.
Prominent people (in the political sphere or not) now use social media outlets as a platform to further their views. This concept, in and of itself, is not a bad idea. However, like anything else, its effectiveness has the potential to be abused. In the wake of critical cultural issues such as gun control and the Stoneman Douglas shooting, campaigns to advocate for change have taken off and skyrocketed in popularity. To reiterate, this concept is not a bad idea in theory, but it begs the question—does it really bring about change, or does the powerful façade of social media simply allow activists to believe they are engaging in social change?
Due to its prominence in people’s everyday lives, social media is considered, quite wrongly, to be the quintessential source of information. Sadly, there are many Americans who believe articles and false information that they see circulating on Facebook. While this may not seem like a big issue, it does not help the political divisiveness amongst the people. Most of those Facebook clickbait articles (“Hillary Clinton confesses to XYZ” or “Tom Brady to run for president”) are thought by some people to be legitimate, and it cannot be calculated how many social media users do thorough research on the contents of their readings. Depending on the nature of the article and the political leanings of the reader, these false exposés can foster bitterness and indignation in people’s hearts.
So you may be wondering how social media play into America’s messy political discourse.
At its core, social media’s purpose is to connect people. However, the same tools that should be utilized for building bridges between people can also be used to construct walls. The alluring anonymity that internet platforms offer allow users to express opinions they would not otherwise. This is where the president’s ‘silent majority’ crowd comes in; masked by their screens and armed with keyboard courage, these Americans allow their volatile thoughts to spill unabashedly and without fear of consequence or punishment. It allows people of all political thought and beliefs to connect with like-minded others—and more often than not, more energy is spent trying to prove why one belief system is better than the other. This pseudo “tribal” mentality is not conducive to working with the opposing side, as resentment often increases and open-minded discussion becomes a distant possibility.
To be fair, the political impact of social media does have an upside. If it is utilized correctly, social media is a pretty fantastic way to reach new audiences, particularly younger voters. The rise of internet platforms has seen an awareness of the American youth unlike anything else before, and many of the people who are calling for change cannot even legally vote yet. As Americans, it is the responsibility of the people to work toward exploiting this upside. If more energy was spent increasing voter awareness and promoting a more understanding virtual culture, the hatred that permeates social platforms could eventually be expunged. It would take quite a while, and it would not be easy, but isn’t it a worthy endeavor? As of now, it does not seem to be considered one. The population is too consumed with spewing their own opinions and the personal validation that comes along with it to be worried about the harmful long-term effects their anonymous words could bring.
Perhaps the best way to get their attention is on Facebook.