My political views on Facebook read, “Facebook is not the place for politics.” Classmates from college find this humorous because Politics was my second major in undergrad, and I was known to be quite decent in political arguments. But on social media as a general rule, I stay as far away from discussing politics as Bill Clinton likely does from talking about Monica Lewinsky. During the heat of the election season last year, I actually took a hiatus from Facebook and Twitter. The constant bombardment of people lamenting as to why they were right and everybody else was wrong frustrated me. I could only “unsubscribe” so much, and so I decided that clearly I was the problem, not everybody else.
It’s not that I am apolitical although sometimes I think I would like to be; it is that I do not believe in simplifying my political views. I do not affiliate with any political party or ideology and I do not foresee that I ever will. I believe in thinking about issues, hearing arguments on different sides, investigating historical references, examining my conscience, and then, and only then, do I take positions on issues. Additionally, this is an ongoing process for me and I find that discussing politics on social media does not enhance or add anything of value to the process. In fact, it leaves me concerned for the way in which politics is discussed. It leaves me wondering: Should we talk about politics on social media?
I understand that there are people who genuinely use social media to assert well thought-out positions and constructive political conversations but if you and I are honest, we know that these people are in the minority. For the most part, on any given day, what I witness is a severe lack of understanding of the political process and an exacerbation of political polarization. It is a reasonable assumption that people with similar political beliefs gather, and the phenomenon that occurs is believing that their own positions are the only ones of value and any opposition is castigated as wrong or evil, without an attempt to understand counter positions.
Social media is a wonderful platform to learn but like anything that it is a product of the internet, there is also great misinformation and unlimited opportunity for miscommunication. However we feel about politics as a whole, it matters – it affects us all and it is important as long as we are governed people, and we have always been governed people. So I don’t think it is enough to simply talk about politics but to talk about it in the right way. Social media gives people voice and for that I am grateful. Yet in the realm of politics, it aggravates incorrect notions and fails to provide a healthy and conducive environment for productive political discussion.
It can be argued that how we discuss politics in social media – largely misinformed and seemingly full of hatred for those who do not agree with our positions – is simply a reflection of how we discuss politics in real life. If this is the case, then there is a need for serious individual introspection as well as societal contemplation on what we want from our political discussions. When it comes to social media, you are what you put out into the invisible space that is the internet, and if what you put out there is incompetence and an insufferable petulance for perspectives other than your own, perhaps you are contributing to the larger problem of destructive political discussion more than you think.
It’s a free country as we are told, so be it far from me to tell you how to use your social media presence. I guess my answer to the question, “Should we talk about politics on social media?” is a yes if you want to. But we should be more thoughtful about how we participate politically on this platform, and how we participate in political discussions as a whole. If social media is here to stay and I believe it is, then we can use it as yet another tool to maintain our divisions and see each other as the sum-total of our political assertions and despise those who we don’t agree with. Or perhaps we can use it as a tool that despite our differences, we can engage in discussion that is thoughtful and valuable and cordial. But I have a feeling that this is asking too much of most people so till further notice, I maintain my stance: Facebook is not the place for politics.