Are Politics Ruining Facebook?



There have been so many news feeds on Facebook in the last few weeks especially during the Republican and now the Democratic National Conventions that a lot of people  are starting to complain that Facebook is being ruined by politics and political discourse. The truth is that mass media, whether it is television, Facebook, Twitter, the radio or a newspaper will not change anyone’s mind about a political issue. In the information age we face the prospect of literally turning off voters who have information overload and fatigue. What are all these “news organizations” groups, pundits and political organizations trying to accomplish? More importantly, why do some of us choose to like, repost, write and share our own thinking or memes while others insist Facebook is only meant for sharing pictures of children,”selfies”, family vacations and “good News”?

Those of us who have studied political science know the intent of all these posts and news feeds by political organizations and groups are not designed to get you to change your mind. In fact all my feeds have pretty much the same political slant as we tend to like groups we agree with. The majority of the information we receive merely reinforces or supports a position we already have or we simply unlike the page or block the poster. This is a “get out the vote effort” or “energize the vote effort” When I worked on several campaign phone bank efforts pre-internet days we engaged in the same kind of rhetoric and propaganda. We’d call potential voters, identify their leanings. If they were for our candidate we’d contact them further, offer them rides to the polls seek out contributions. If they were against, they’d never hear from us again. We didn’t want to remind them when election day was.

The average Facebook user does not seek out alternative voices or opinions just as the average American doesn’t read more than one newspaper, listen to more than one type of newscast or radio show or even maintain friendships with people who are diametrically opposed to what they think or believe.

In a recent Big Think video  Penn Jillette of Penn and Teller fame argues that when we tolerate others beliefs we get nowhere. He calls it condescending to merely accept what others are saying without question. Arguing, debating and disagreeing is true discourse and need not be insulting. Engage those you disagree with in discussions rather than merely un-liking or un-following them.

It is our obligation when faced with the kind hateful, hurtful speech that Donald Trump has been spouting for months, we have a duty to energize our base and get out the vote. We are not going to change the minds of the average trump supporter. One shouldn’t even try. The goal is to activate the anti-Trump voter. Like the meme below, we have lots of reasons to vote against Trump just as his supporters have lots of reasons to vote against Hillary Clinton. It’s all a matter of which party is better able to mobilize their base. It is far easier to mobilize an angry voter than one that is satisfied with the status quo or one who has shut it all out in favor of vacations photos, “selfies” and baby pictures.

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The question remains: is Facebook the appropriate venue for political discourse. I would argue “Yes!”, since the majority of people don’t attend public meetings, town halls, political parties, work on political campaigns or even keep themselves informed by a variety of sources. Facebook is the new water cooler on a much grander scale. If we don’t like what’s being said we have three options: disagree, agree or walk away in frustration. We are not going to be able to stop the discourse or block all the feeds so we might as well enjoy the ride and get engaged in the discussion.


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