Political Comments on Social Media – desirable or disasterous?

20 Sep

As November looms ever closer, the rash of political-themed asides on our favorite social media platforms is hardly shocking. There’s certainly no shortage of material for commentary (this latest 47% gaffe caused quite a stir, no?).

But even more prevalent than the comments about politics are the comments about comments about politics. Know what I’m talking about? They run the gamut from:

…the whiny (“I’m SO tired of hearing the political talk!”)

…to the practical (“how do you block certain comments from popping up in your feed?”)

…to the pacifist (“we all just need to learn to respect each other’s opinions”)

…to the sarcastic (“yeah—FB should only be restricted to comments about puppies and lunch”).

I’ve even seen people throwing in the towel, swearing off social media (riiight) until November or refusing to engage (often announcing the intent, which I would argue is in and of itself a comment). Friendships are even ending over the hullabaloo, and not just the online kind.

It begs the question, what is the place of social media in politics, and vice versa? Should the two mix at all? Is it really possible to stay out of the fray, and honestly, should we?

Politicians already consider social media a powerful campaign tool. Studies have actually been following the effect of certain online actions (such as Liking) on voting, and the influence is not insignificant. Our voice is a force that can be used for good or evil.

Unfortunately, evil is easier than good. One of the common arguments I hear, and one of the most sound, is that the anonymity of the internet allows people to be rude. Can’t really argue with that. It’s a lot easier to sass back in type than it is to someone’s face, and if your buttons really get pushed the temptation is almost irresistible.

A somewhat related point is that the speed and brevity of web-style posting doesn’t lend itself to thoughtful—and therefore meaningful—debate. Also true. They call that bumper sticker talk: bite sized bits of truth that, like cotton candy, melt in your mouth but ultimately fail to satisfy.

Another debating point (one I champion) is the quality of commentary. When it comes to hot topics like politics and religion, I’m with Thumper: if you can’t say something intelligent, don’t say nuthin’ at all. That maxim has prevented me from entering many a discussion, both online and off, in my lifetime. Even if I have a strong gut opinion, I won’t voice it without knowledge to back it. In fact, I skipped the July referendum on the Atlanta traffic SPLOST because I didn’t feel fully informed.

The very large peace-loving, people-pleasing, non-confrontational part of me would love to answer the call for a moratorium on political commentary. But I have to believe that civic engagement—any civic engagement—is better than none at all.

We’ve all at one time or another held erroneous beliefs, and probably even spouted a few of those. It blows having to admit wrongness or defeat (perhaps it’s why so few people ever do it). That’s a risk we have to shoulder, because disengagement is fatal. Think about it—do you really want to put your future in the hands of some joker you know absolutely nothing about? Or worse, leave it to the lobbyists? Shudder.

Our opinion is a powerful thing, and it’s our responsibility as citizens of the world to make that opinion as informed as possible. Social media is certainly not the most reliable tool for formulation of opinions—the depth of idiocy on both sides of the political spectrum can be downright astonishing—but declining to speak your mind only encourages disengagement. (If you don’t know what your mind is, no shame: sites like isidewith.com  help match your inherent beliefs to a candidate).

Even if one does decide to pull a Rhode Island and “abstain–courteously” from the discussion (what? everybody loves a musical theatre reference) the most important thing is that you get some beliefs and vote on them. (Register online at rockthevote.org. Tell your friends!) In the end, the only comments I find truly cringe-inducing are “I’m not going to vote. I just don’t follow that stuff.”

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