There is no denying that the political divide is as deep and as wide as it has ever been, but social media is making it far worse. In just the past week truly despicable hashtags such as #JoeAndThe Hoe and #WrongTrump each made the rounds on social media.
This week during the Democratic National Convention Hootsuite.com provided a breakdown of recent mentions of candidates and found that Democratic Vice Presidential hopeful Senator Kamala Harris had the most mentions with the highest positive sentiment but also the third lowest number of negative sentiment of notable democrats.
There were some 4,101,394 mentions of Senator Harris with 31% of them being positive compared to 26% being negative and the rest (43%) being neutral. Still it is hashtags such as the aforementioned one that continue to make the rounds – and unnecessarily so.
Too Much Response
This week with the spotlight on the Democrats, President Donald Trump has with expected and disturbing regularity turned to Twitter to share his comments on essentially every speech, moment and meme. It is almost impossible to think how this rift in the country could be closed if this is how politicians and their followers continue to use social media.
“I am completely disgusted with how our politicians have behaved over the past four years,” said technology industry entrepreneur Lon Safko, author of The Social Media Bible.
While there is no denying that President Trump takes to social media without much of a filter, Safko contended that so too have his critics – with harsh words even before he took office.
“I think Trump has remained much calmer and more reserved than I would have ever been,” explained Safko. “The mainstream media has been astonishingly disrespectful to our President and more so to the Office of the President. Whether you like him or not; he’s the President of our country and our Commander and Chief. The Democrats have acted appallingly. That’s not to say the Republicans haven’t tried to defend themselves and have often crossed the line.”
According to a new Pew Research Center survey conducted last month – even before the latest round of contemptible posts, some 55% of adult social media users said they felt “worn out” by how many political posts and discussions they saw on social media.
That is up by 18% since Pew asked the question leading up to the 2016 general election, and up 9% in just the past year.
Simply put, people are seeing too much commentary on social media about the election, the candidates and politics in general. Yet, 29% of Americans of voting age even said they just don’t feel strongly one way or another about encountering political discussions, which is down from four-in-ten in 2016 and 2019. Only 15 to 20% of respondents even said they like seeing lots of political posts on social media!
The findings were reportedly in line with a fall 2019 Pew Research Center survey that found that half of American adults said they found talking about politics with people they disagree with politically to be “stressful and frustrating,” while eight-in-ten said that the nature of political debate in the country has become more negative.
And yet, politics is dominating on social media where a tweet or post is unlikely to win hearts and minds.
“This is part of a larger more systemic problem which started back in the 1970’s,” suggested Safko. “Society as a whole simply became increasingly disrespectful. Back in the mid to late 1970’s, we saw a dramatic shift in content, first on New York NBC radio with ‘Imus In The Morning’ and ‘Shock Jock’ Howard Stern. At the same time the world was introduced to cable television, (which) was able to bring content that commercial television couldn’t due to the lack of authority and supervision of the Broadcast Standard and Practices. By the beginning of the 1980’s America was watching Richard Pryor’s Live In Concert and Eddie Murphy’s Delirious, which set the stage for a new norm of acting and speaking in public.”
New Direct Media
While it is true that cable TV – and more recently streaming – has resulted in a sort of “anything goes” when it comes to content, viewers can still tune out if they find it beyond the pale when it comes to responsible viewing.
A greater problem could be that social media has no filter – yet it is treated as a valid form of mass communication/media. Yet, instead of being “citizen journalism” where stories are broken, facts are checked and there is some trust in the source, here the platform truly is “anything goes” to a new level.
“This collided with the first through the introduction of the Internet and social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, which could reach literally a billion people or more outpacing every news outlet combined,” said Safko.
So for a political figure who doesn’t agree with how the media reports the news, said figure can go straight to the followers. That in turn has created a further distrust – and then there is the fact that foreign actors are using the platforms to further sow discontent.
At the same time the social media platforms on both sides have also been accused of pushing a potential agenda, which again is only making the divide that much worse.
“Every platform will have to answer for knowingly pushing their own agendas at any cost at the determent of its consumers,” suggested Safko. “The only way to combat this is to use your head, don’t just believe information that supports your view. Do the work necessary; research critical information on important issues, especially regarding the upcoming election. And, push for legislation that provides consequence to those who deliberately lie to us to influence their own outcomes.”
Return of Civility
Regardless of who is elected President of the United States in just under two and a half months it is likely the situation will continue to get worse with vile hashtags being the least of the problem.
“I had remained hopeful that the Office of the President was still was one last bastion of respect that remained throughout,” said Safko. “I had hope that as every elected official was hired, elected, and is paid by us, the citizens of the United States, that they might, only out of respect for their positions, respect for their employers; us, respect for themselves, or respect for the country they represent, could somehow show the slightest level of decorum or a semblance of dignity. Once again, I am gravely disappointed in our elected officials, but certainly not surprised.”