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The Blue & Gray Press | November 17, 2017

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Social media misuse on the campaign trail

Social media misuse on the campaign trail

By JONATHON MYERS

The 2016 election is slated to be a complete farce, not because of the candidates, but the voters. While many believe that neither candidate is a good presidential choice, there are far more people polarized to ravenous support of their candidate of choice.

The hypothesis that our founding fathers put forth that a two party system would divide our country is coming true before our eyes, and we owe much of it to Facebook and Twitter. Despite social media being a tool for connecting people, it has divided us more than we have ever been before.

According to The Guardian, six out of every 10 millennials get their political news on Facebook, making the 1.7 billion-user social site the largest millennial marketplace for news and ideas in the world. The Guardian goes on to say that Baby Boomers are more likely than any other demographic to be consistently exposed to content they agree with politically on Facebook, that conservatives were more likely to agree with posts they see on their timeline and that almost half of Facebook’s “consistent liberals” have blocked users they disagreed with.

Facebook’s algorithms ensure that users will only see what they want to see, based on what they click on and “like.” Aside from the occasional political tirade from an estranged uncle, most users are only going to see what relates to their likes and the likes of their likeminded friends.

The resulting stew is an endless stream of confirmation bias, reiteration of the values the user believes in for the purpose of reaffirming and validating those beliefs.

But let us not leave the candidates out of the social media problem entirely. Both parties know how to speak to their audience, and that can have severe repercussions. Donald Trump uses his social media popularity to smear entire races and religions. I recommend everyone at least glance through the New York Times’ 258 things Trump has insulted on Twitter. The sheer amount of hatred that man spreads to a following of 12 million is a borderline crime against humanity. Does it need to be said how bad it is to get your confirmation bias from that much negativity?

According to Business Insider, Trump targeted a former Miss Universe, calling her “Miss Piggy” and “Miss Housekeeping,” digs at her weight and ethnicity. He recently renewed his attacks on the former winner, taking to Twitter to call her, “My worst Miss. U.” How is it democracy can continue to hold meaning if political disagreement devolves into cyberbullying? A presidential candidate used a social media platform to unite his followers in harassing someone and it is time someone held his supporters accountable for enabling him.

While it can be nice to feel validated in your opinions every now and again, if all your news sources are just regurgitating your own opinions back at you, you are essentially tackling important societal issues with a blindfold on.

Without being challenged like an adult or being asked to think about an issue before automatically deciding what side you are on, then even the act of choosing a candidate is pointless. Democracy has no meaning if everyone just picks the side corresponding to their preferred color.