By Miranda Christensen
|We all have that friend. You know the one. The person who posts those political posts. Don’t even get me started on those comments that soon follow.
I mean, every time I get on social media I see the unfriender: someone who, whenever someone disagrees with them, tells everyone who dislikes their posts to unfriend them or unfollow them.
And the belittler: the person who starts to bash the person they’re talking to because they disagree. This person also seems to be the generalizer: Someone who makes generalizations about everyone and everything so that now everyone in a political party is morally degenerate or an entire race or an entire gender has all the same characteristics.
Then there’s the fighter: the person who makes inflammatory, wild claims because it will spark a reaction or (yikes) because they truly believe it.
Lastly, there’s the saint: The person who pretends to be having a civil conversation, but has to include how worried they are for everyone who disagrees with them. “I see where you’re coming from, but I’m just worried about your soul.”
Social media is now the platform for everyday politics, but the conversations we have over social media are causing a greater divide. People are being louder, more extreme, and meaner because they can hide behind their computer screens.
In social psychology, this is called deindividuation. Deindividuation means that when we hide behind masks or behind computer screens, we are more likely to behave differently than we would if we were face to face with other people. This causes many different problems, ranging from cyber bullying to political comment wars. Turns out that, according to a study conducted at Oxford University, one third of pro-Trump tweets and one fifth of pro-Hillary tweets were from automated accounts. That means that campaigns are setting up “bots” to manipulate what we see and read so we will vote a certain way. There are systems set in place to manipulate the conversations we have over social media so that even choosing a politician is a competition.
More than that, according to a study done by Pew Research Center, more than one third of social media users are “worn out by how many political posts and discussions they see”. The same study showed that when people are talking over social media, only 35 percent of people say that the conversation was interesting and informative, but an overwhelmingly large 59 percent said that the conversation was stressful and frustrating. In fact, when talking over social media, 64 percent of people say that they found the person they were talking to had less in common politically with them than they had previously thought.
Another possible reason for this is the idea that we go on social media to have other people reaffirm our own beliefs, to create “echo chambers”. Mark Coker, the founder of Smashwords added on to this idea when he stated “Social media enables the atomization of tribes … where beliefs are shared, confirmed and amplified, where [people] can remain immune to reason and facts”. People don’t go onto social media to have civil conversations, but to prove a point or to have their opinion reaffirmed.
The whole political conversation online is nothing short of a loud, messy eruption of opinions.
But what effect do these conversations have? Do people change their minds because someone else is bashing them? Do we gain more understanding and come closer to reaching a solution by unfriending or unfollowing someone because they disagree with us? Probably not.
These kinds of heated online conversations are dividing our nation. People don’t talk to each other anymore—they talk to Twitter profiles or Facebook pages. We are bashing each other publicly and working hard to show the other person how dumb they are, but there’s little talk about compromise. If we really want change to happen, if we really want to find a solution, we need to talk to each other in person, not over social media.