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Beware: political danger lies in social media

Views 12 | Time to read: 3 minutes | Uploaded: 10 - 24 - 2018 | By: Emily Washburn


If you don’t see a problem with this, unfollow. Because you have no heart or common decency.” “This is literally genocide.” “I didn’t know someone could get a whole lot stupider, but boy, did you prove me wrong. Glad you don’t care much of your ignorance though [sic.].”
These are just a few of the comments that graced my Instagram feed last night on a post that pertained to the immigration situation in America. It is a rare day when a person can browse a social media platform and not be bombarded with a slew of radical political rhetoric on both sides of the spectrum. Ironically, many of the comments and captions on political posts especially are either wide generalizations or personal attacks with very little to do with the issue at hand. In this way, social media contributes to the polarization of political rhetoric, and cheapens real world problems.
W. Lance Bennet of Sage Journals describes this phenomenon as personalized politics. We see personalized politics everywhere on social media, mainly characterized by using technology to share personal stories and concerns as well as inclusive, generalized rallying cries like “We are the 99%.” The trend of such personalized politics seems to be widespread anger across various platforms. For instance, Vox states that Facebook users are increasingly responding to posts from Congress with the ‘angry’ feature, instead of the ‘love’ feature. The quotes above further confirm this trend.
There are obvious logical problems with the use of this kind of language on social media. First of all, angry generalizations alienate large groups of people. Logically, applying an angry blanket statement to many people, especially using accusatory, personalized language like “you” or “your,” is going to make it difficult to have civil conversations with that same group of people in the future. It can effectively destroy temperate political rhetoric and increase the divide between political parties.
Second, I would argue that throwing around terms like “genocide” or “Nazi” to describe everyday events that people disagree with cheapens the events they signify. I am not saying that we should be wary of using these words in their correct context. However, I will argue that, for example, calling a controversial immigration issue a genocide is incredibly disrespectful to those that have experienced the very real consequences of ethnic and racial cleansing.
The third issue is precisely that: incendiary comments are often directed at people we don’t know personally. Deeply offensive attacks are traded between people that have never met, that don’t understand each other’s perspectives, and that can’t appreciate why they have those perspectives. It is all too easy to reduce a person to a comment on social media, and forget the effects that comments can have on the psyche of the person behind the screen.
We live in a polarized world, but I entreat you to scrutinize what you post on social media. Often posts in an impassioned moment of rage only contribute to the divide.


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