This year’s election, unlike any other before, has brought a new aspect of marketing and communication into the political game. Social media, the pride of the millennials, has made the 2016 presidential election perhaps the most followed of all time. Most would cite this as a notable achievement in that ignorance in the average voter is being diminished, however, the negative ramifications that come with politics in social media severely outweigh the benefits.
According to digitaltrends.com, the average smartphone user in the U.S. spends a staggering 4.7 hours a day on his or her phone. Inevitably, a large chunk of that time is spent using social media with the average user checking Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, or some other social media platform 17 times a day.
America is addicted.
This fact is evident and has been for quite some time now. The effect this has on the nation is most notably said to be loss of crucial social skills and deteriorating cognitive brain function, but is this the most imminent repercussion? After this past election it’s clear that Americans are suffering from a much less apparent condition: self-inflicted brainwash.
The Echo Chamber
Unfollow and block, it’s too easy. As people develop their social media accounts, they tailor exactly who and what they see. We all know this from experience. If you come across a user who posts things you may not agree with, your first thought is to unfollow them. Further, if a user comments on one of your posts something negative, your first thought is to block them. In doing this, users tend to surround themselves with like-minded people that share similar political leanings, religious beliefs, and socioeconomic statuses. In addition to this, most social media sites have algorithms that promote posts to your feeds based on what you’ve already shown interest in, both on that platform and in Google searches. The result of this is a narrow exposure to reality. Furthermore, users lose their individuality and get caught up in what has come to be known as groupthink. This occurrence synthesizes the mindsets of the “group members,” and leaves them more susceptible to becoming radicalized. With nobody in a user’s twitter feed to contradict the ideas being shared, divisions between groups of people become increasingly pronounced. These theories have translated into reality in the past election which illustrated just how deep the rifts in our country are – and how could they not be? – when Republicans scrolled through their twitter feeds, they were bombarded by Clinton scandals while Democrats saw only the latest “stop Trump” post.
The Flashpaper Effect
*Flashpaper is formed in a process where one nitrates cellulose. The result is a compound that is highly flammable. When ignited, the compound is dramatically engulfed in a blaze of fire within seconds, leaving only ashes.
The unique aspect of social media platforms, most reputably Twitter, is the quickness and brevity of the experience. Twitter restricts posts to 140 characters, and, besides select publishers, restricts videos to 140 seconds. Similarly, Snapchat limits videos to ten seconds each. Consequently, stories are trimmed-to-fit, leaving out details and keeping users from fully comprehending the post. Hence, this facet of social media is most destructive in the news and education angle. News agencies have promptly taken to social media, further strengthening users’ reliance. Yellow journalism plagues Twitter feeds as news accounts attempt to ramp up their retweets. Guilty of this, many news accounts use flashy headlines, scandalous stories, and prominent people to draw users in. Nonetheless, the effectiveness of this strategy is evident as stories will get thousands of retweets in just minutes. Due to the quick, touch and scroll mannerisms of Twitter users, one retweets an interesting post before fully understanding the complexity and depth of it. Ergo, pop-up conflict stories concerning glamorous topics like race, politics, and the environment go rampant throughout Twitter, and by the time they are proven to be untrue or illegitimate, the hype is over; and the truth, quite frankly, just doesn’t matter. For a common user, there isn’t a way to quickly fact-check a post or source, so the information promoted by thousands of individuals isn’t credible most of the time.
Aside from the “social media echo chamber” and the “flashpaper effect” there is, of course, some good hidden in this.
The bigger news sources like CNN, FOX, and MSNBC have had to deal with growing viewer distrust. This was amplified by the rhetoric of President Donald Trump, who argued that the media aimed to cripple him throughout his campaign. To circumvent the media, Trump often uses his personal Twitter account to convey messages to his constituents. This logic is good. The issue, however, is that there is no accountability for falsehoods and speculatory remarks. Further, the social media echo chamber keeps many people reading posts from their favorite politicians without any objection or contrary proposition.
The long-term impact of these issues is frightening to think about. As the younger generations progress with social media and new generations are raised on it, the problem will inevitably inflate. It’s hard to believe that a country can function while half of its citizens are pitted against each other. In fact, it seems as though respect for others’ opinions diminishes a little bit more upon the release of every new iPhone. We saw it in the presidential debates, where Clinton and Trump could only seem to focus on insulting each other’s character and intelligence, and we see it in everyday interactions. People just can’t seem to carry on a civilized debate. Of course it’s easy to stigmatize an adversary, hurling insults and denouncing their ideals, from behind a keyboard.
Ultimately, it seems as though this pandemic will only get worse. The best thing to do? Be wary.