Politics, Social Media, and YOU

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The leading candidates for America’s next presidency are busy slinging mud this week again and will continue to do so through some more presidential debates. Political operatives and energized voters are hard at work sharing lies, warped opinions and fiery insults on Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites. Much of today’s political discourse starts on social media, and the medium often amplifies vitriol and slants information into pretzel contortions.

The 2016 presidential election isn’t the first event for which social media has been used as a political tool, but today it carries tremendous weight and influence. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton both use social to their advantages, but it’s often the surrogates, supporters and influencers who shape perceptions, according to whatever views serve their preferred candidate’s interests. Social however, tends to reinforce and popularize narrow opinions.

Never before has otherwise mindless online activity such as a “like,” or retweet been so reflective of the state of American politics — incredibly chaotic and intensely biased. The flypaper of Social attracts with loud headlines to the bussing users flying about. The the flypaper media holds like-minded people together, stuck and unmoving on a particular issue or candidate. It reinforces their biases; they are firmly glued. In other words, people are not open minded or tolerant as they claim. They only seek confirmatory reinforcement of their held opinion. There is no real search for both sides of an issue, but rather a search for like-minded people to tell them why their opinion is valid. It doesn’t mean the people won’t change their opinion, but it feels better to find people who are supporting you and telling you why your opinion is right. It feels better to dig in and not to consider any other opinions; or notions of being wrong.

Many people seek out echo chambers on social media, only reinforcing what they already believe and not even considering any other views. They insulate themselves so much that a simply logic argument sends them into a tailspin; unable to debate beyond simple name calling. Even though social media allows people to be exposed to different political views, people tend to rivet to environments where their current political opinions are constantly reinforced. And as one of my favorite Polish quotes portends: “Size is no mark of a little mind.”

Social media democratizes information sharing, and it helps individuals with very narrow interests quickly and easily connect with others who share their beliefs. Sensational headlines and memorable memes give rapid-fire politics momentum on social media. But it buries one in preconceived notion, not expansive rational thought.

Social is the “most important platform for the millennial generation.” According to a survey of 3,760 U.S. adults by the Pew Research Center, 35 percent of people 18 to 29 years old say social media is the most helpful source of information on the 2016 presidential election.

It’s become the go-to tool for politics, whereas older generations are still relying on traditional media. In the end, it is a tool and it depends on how we use it in order to fashion the best and highest good for each of us.

Don’t bury yourself in the morass of sameness. Take the time to think though this election and sift through all the various facets found in it all across social media.

Then make a qualified decision, not an emotional one.

To Your Success…

Scott Ringwelski

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