Politics & Social Media

Did you know that people get more upset discussing politics on social media than they do in person? Could that because perceptions play a bigger role due to the text format? It could also be a result of keyboard courage.

According to a recent study by Pew Research, 55% of people on social media feel worn out by political posts and only 15% enjoy seeing political posts in their newsfeed. (Anderson, 2020). Republicans are more likely to feel worn out and less likely to enjoy seeing political posts – perhaps due to their leader constantly being under attack. 

There are many people that feel worn out by political posts and yet make political posts themselves.  They post memes which support their political opinion and get upset when others disagree.  The Pew Research study found that online, political discussions reveal political differences between friends over 70% of the time.  So, when we post something political on social media, we should expect people to disagree with us rather than be of the same mind.

When we are discussing politics with someone face-to-face, we can hear the tone of their voice.  We can “hear” their body language.  When I discuss politics online, it is often with a chuckle and a slap on the knee.  However, those reading what I type may “hear” someone screaming, jeering or taunting them.  That is the disconnect often experienced by online-text communication.  In addition to that, many people find keyboard courage online.  That means they say things or take positions online that they would not in person.  This phenomenon also includes a lack of courtesy. Some people will hurl insults and call names online and would never do that if they were sitting across the table with the same person in a coffee shop.

The settings on social media allow the user to filter out what he or she sees from others and what they can see from them.  I have used the privacy settings so that only a handful of my friends can see my political posts.  I have also “unfollowed” some of my friends but have not defriended them.  Unfollowing isn’t a great option. I only use it with “friends” who are posting purely political posts.  When we unfollow someone, we don’t see any of their posts.  That means we don’t see updates on their family, non-political jokes or uplifting spiritual memes they post.  We have to specifically go to their page and see what has been going on with them.

 

One frustrated man said when he posts a political meme on social media it is like putting a yard sign in his yard – it is not open for debate.  However, that comparison fails.  A yard sign is not an interactive type of media. A yard sign is also only visible to others that live in your neighborhood or are passing by.  When a user posts on social media it goes right into the face of others in their network.  It is more like posting yard signs in the front yards of everyone in their network.  Others open their phone’s browser or sit down at their PC and the memes are in their face.

When we make a political post on our social media, we are asking for feedback regardless if we realize it or not. It may be a video on our YouTube channel or a meme on our Facebook or Instagram.  Whatever the means and media, someone that disagrees is likely to respond.  Imagine leaving a $100 bill on the dashboard of your car and discovering someone had broken into the vehicle while you were gone and stolen the money.  Would that be expected?  Well, theft is always wrong and breaking into another person’s car to take their money is never justified.  However, it certainly would not be surprising if we were to leave large amounts of cash in the open to be easily seen. Those that feel exhausted by political posts on social media, and yet continue to post political opinions, are acting out in a self-destructive manner.

Some people that get caught up in this self-destructive behavior blame it on those that a provoking them.  They label them trolls.  A troll on social media is one that posts something that is inflammatory, or off-topic, with the purpose of getting other people upset.  An example would be someone leaving the comment “this video sucks” on a YouTube video.  While political discussion is frequently upsetting, labeling someone a troll that is disagreeing may just be a way of trying to blame them for getting upset.  James Hanson writing for University of Nebraska, Lincoln clarified this. “Someone who argues a point isn’t trolling.  Someone who brings something off topic into the conversation in order to make that person mad IS trolling.” (Hanson, 2018) Trolls often strike business pages on social media.  They will derogatory posts on the page about the business. Blaming someone else for my emotional reaction to them is a

I enjoy discussing politics.  I have enjoyed it since I was in high school.  I am a political independent which means my ideology is not locked into that of a political party.  I have no dog in the fight, so to speak.  I have political opinions, but they are subject to change.  I was once extremely pro-life but became pro-choice because I discovered new information from interacting with those that thought differently.  I was also once a militant environmentalist and today am much more skeptical about the causes of climate change than I once was.  I do chuckle when discussing politics.  I don’t take myself too seriously.  I find it very humorous when I hear someone making an argument that I used to make myself but then later saw as faulty and abandoned.

Politics is not for everyone.  While some people find it incredibly boring, others get so upset when people disagree with them that it is hardly worth the emotional price they pay.  Human relationships are what make life enjoyable and satisfying.  Over 70% of the people we know and interact with think differently about politics than we do.  If we cannot disagree without getting upset, we either need to cut off interaction with all of those people or avoid discussing politics.  Expecting others to agree with us politically so that we can preserve the relationship is simply not a realistic expectation.   

 

References:

Anderson, M., Auxier, B., (2020). 55% of u.s. social media users say… Retrieved from pewresearch.org

Hanson, J., (2018). Trolls and their impact on social media. Retrieved from umlcms.unl.edu

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