Social media has changed the way we communicate. Sites like Facebook, Instagram and especially Twitter have united people across the globe and allowed us to express and share our ideas on any topic we choose. However, it is deteriorating the way we talk politics and has devolved political arguments into nothing more than mudslinging contests.
I have used Twitter for a couple of years, and my usage until recently has never really extended more than just being an onlooker to other people’s content on the platform.
Due to my interest in politics, I always have sought to witness the countless debates and scuffles over the latest outrage. And over the years I have seen a consistent deterioration in the way people react to political events.
Politics is complicated in its own right, and everyday we navigate through different issues that are incredibly complex and intricate. This requires us to take some time to fully inform ourselves on the issue at hand, because first impressions can be deceiving and can lead us down a path where we start shouting on our soap box with ideas that have no basis.
Twitter goes completely against this etiquette, and the platform is constantly used as a means to react to an event as quickly as possible even with little information present.
Take for instance the recently released summary of the Mueller report from Attorney General William Barr. Most reactions to the event is met with one of either two views, the first being that the summary completely exonerated the president on all accused wrong doing, and the second being that Barr is a malicious liar and is just protecting the president.
In some cases these views can get so out of hand that one Trump supporter named @MagniFieri on Twitter likened the investigation of the Trump campaign as, “100x worse than a foreign power interfering with our election.”, calling the process “treason” and a “failed coup.”
An important element that people seem to be missing about this issue is that the report has not even been released yet. The summary states only the opinion of Barr on the issue of obstruction. Mueller’s report was inconclusive on whether Trump committed obstruction of justice so the opinion was handed to Barr. You can believe or doubt Barr’s summary, but you cannot decisively give an informed opinion on an almost 400-page report that you have never even seen.
This way of communicating and arguing is not just designated to how we talk national politics but also how we react to national news and pop culture in general, and how we use Twitter to publicly shame others.
John Oliver in a recent segment on his late night show “Last Week with John Oliver,” did a bit on public shaming and whether it was useful or not.
He makes the case that while misdirected public shaming can “completely destroy people’s lives,” it can and has been used to hold powerful people accountable.
While this may be true in some instances, he brings up very weak examples to prove his thesis.
Oliver brings up the case of Tucker Carlson, a major Fox News political commentator, who was caught in some controversy after past audio recordings came out of him calling the country of Iraq a “crappy place filled with a bunch of, you know, semiliterate primitive monkeys.”
It was not long before calls to boycott his show and his resignation flooded Twitter feeds.
Oliver then points out how this example of public outcry is merited, which is undoubtedly true. However, he completely fails to mention how this public outcry achieved absolutely nothing. Tucker Carlson never apologized, he is still running his show and the controversy itself does not even appear in Google when you search his name.
If this level of public outrage at someone who clearly deserves it does not have any impact, then what about public outrage when it is directed at those who don’t deserve it? Although Oliver acknowledged that public outrage is not always virtuous, just being aware of it does not mean that people will suddenly stop shaming undeserving people.
The same can be said about the ineffectiveness of outrage in the case of Jussie Smollett, whose situation from the time news came out of his alleged assault to the revelation that it was hoaxed was met with both emboldened support in the beginning and to then vigorous outrage by the conclusion.
And now that his charges were suddenly dropped, it is safe to say the public outrage has had little to no effect on the way this event transpired from the time of his arrest to the moment his charges were dismissed. Public support did not stop him from being arrested and public outrage did not prevent his case being dropped.
These issues are complicated and very hard to navigate safely through without encountering contradictions. So relegating your feelings into a 280-character tweet and expecting it to be thought out is incredibly naive at best and dangerously ignorant at worst.
People like Ed and Brian Krassenstein for instance, whose audience reaches about one and a half million people on Twitter, dedicate almost obscene amounts of time solely to replying angrily to Donald Trump’s tweets.
While criticism of the president is not in itself invalid, the fact that they continuously spew out tweets about him every half hour makes it seems they are more concerned with appealing to their audience rather than giving actual thought-out criticism, and this seems to be the case for many political twitter accounts.
Our conversations in this complex political era should have more nuance and refinement. We should all, regardless of where we lie on the political spectrum, strive towards having more in-depth conversations with each other. When we start accusing the other side of having the worst intentions, when we become outraged over things we know nothing about or when we shame innocent people, we just end up making our division even more apparent which leads to nothing but more conflict.