The Election Through the Eyes of Social Media

The youth of the United States came out in droves this year to vote in the Presidential Election and many of them voted to reelect President Barack Obama. After being plagued by stereotypes of the “apathetic” millennials, the 18-29 year-olds came to the polls and made their votes known. As encouraging as it is to see young people take an interest in politics, hopefully forming habits to do our duty as Americans in the elections to come, one has to wonder whether uninformed voting is, in fact, a larger problem than not voting at all.

Refusing to vote in an election because you don’t “like” either candidate or do not support the “capitalist regime” is a slap in the face to the years of wars that have been fought and the lives that have been lost to grant Americans that very right. I voted in my first presidential election this year and, even though I was not thrilled with either candidate, I cast my vote. There were more things at stake in this election than the Presidential candidates, and I believe that many people failed to realize that when they exercised their “personal freedom” by refusing to vote.

Perhaps the most frustrating thing, however, has been reading the chatter over social media –especially my guilty pleasure, Twitter– over the past few weeks and especially the most recent days. Everyone has a right to express their political beliefs and opinions, but the sheer idiocy of the people that are most prevalent on Twitter is disturbing and sickening. Threats of assassinations, arguments of racism, and other wild accusations that flew back and forth between people that have never met were vitriolic and frightening. Just as disturbing is the apparent lack of education or information possessed by the people starting these ridiculous online battles. Peppered with spelling and grammatical mistakes, as well as outright false statements, one has to wonder: how much of Generation Y is voting with this mindset? How many of us vote because of the things we read online, or hear in passing from our parents? How many of us vote because our favorite celebrity or musical artist supported a candidate?

Mean Girls, always a highly quoted film on Twitter was, once again, represented ad nauseum on the Twitter feed on Election Day, with this particular quote:

“I’m voting for Regina George, because she got hit by a bus.”

“I’m voting for Cady Heron, because she pushed her.”

While this quote is referring to a Spring Fling Queen election and NOT the Presidential election, I think this is the attitude a large amount of young voters possess. Ask us about economic policy, foreign policy, or immigration–many people would not know. This is not at all to say that all young voters are uneducated or that all older voters are well educated on politics. I can say with assurance that there are many things in the political sphere that are beyond me, probably because, like many of my generation, I have not paid as close attention to politics as I should have. However, I think social media has earned an important place in politics, especially this year.

Many of the discussions taking place over Twitter were educated and civil and generated interesting questions, questions that needed to be asked. People on Twitter were proud to vote–some so much so that they posted photos of their ballots (oops, that’s illegal). But, in the aftermath of the election results, Twitter quickly degenerated into a place for people to spew bigotry and sheer stupidity. This was not limited to one party or one belief by any means, therefore showing that at least the political parties can share something.

In the end, I think an important fact was proved: the votes of young people do count, and do make an impact on the future, and I think more young people are beginning to realize that. But, what is terrifying is wondering where we are getting our information for whom to vote, how are we making our decisions? Yes, I vote the way my parents and grandparents vote. Is that because I have no mind of my own and have bought into the “family tradition”? No. Does my upbringing have some impact on my vote? Yes. However, I am a 21 year old college student. I have a mind of my own and I have found that the beliefs and opinions I learned from my parents have come to apply personally to me as I have gotten older. Those arethe terms young voters need to reach–the ability to make a well-educated decision based on THEIR beliefs and THEIR opinions, not those of some celebrity or someone spewing nonsense on Twitter. I think we are part of the way there: the young people are going out and voting and getting excited, but perhaps being a truly educated voter is something that (hopefully) comes with age.

Why Politics and Twitter/Facebook Don’t Mix

ImageWell here it is, Thursday again and time to blog. I’ve realized it’s hard to blog when you don’t have something burning in your mind at the moment…but on the flip side it’s hard to write when you do. Many times, the things that are pressing in on me are things that I’m still not comfortable sharing my thoughts on with the greater population…even through the relative anonymity of the internet.

I have made a conscious decision to avoid posting polarizing political/social/religious/etc. topics on the various forms of social media I use. It is an intentional action every time I DON’T post something about the current political climate, the different debates, and the nasty arguments that are flying around the news. Is it because I’m not passionate about my stance on politics and religion? Not at all. But when I read something online and I feel the heat of indignation rush through me my first instinct is to pull my fingers away from the keyboard before responding. Maybe it is because when I’m scrolling through my newsfeed on Facebook or twitter, I roll my eyes and scroll faster when I see people touting their political agendas in a way that is neither intelligent nor interesting. So many of the “political” tirades on the various forms of social media employ some sort of passive aggressive form of attack. The “intolerance” of people who think differently, the “stupidity” of people who believe a certain way. I’ll admit, I’ve un-followed or defriended people who feel the need to spew out the noxious word-vomit that they think is political awareness. They have every right to say those things wherever and in whatever manner they choose, and I have every right to refuse to read it.

The upcoming election will be the first for which I am old enough to vote, so I have been trying to keep up with the newsworthy events of this year’s electoral race.  It horrifies me how often the “news” articles we read have the same tone as the outbursts of a bunch of high schoolers and college kids who probably know little about what is going on in the world today and, what little they know, they understand even less. That is not to say that I understand everything about what I’m reading. I’m a liberal arts major who hates math, so things like the stock market and the economy aren’t things I comprehend easily. I usually have to text my Finance major friend and ask for the dumbed down version. But, recognizing this lack of understanding is another thing that keeps me from ranting about things in politics, because once you put it out there in writing, it is open season on your comment/tweet/or post.

Maybe the reason I avoid posting is that I see how quickly things become unfriendly. A simple statement of opinion easily turns into a full out social media argument that can only deteriorate until it becomes nuclear. Maybe I’m just not willing to set myself up for that kind of firestorm. Or maybe it’s because out of all our “friends” on social media (in my case, at least) maybe 10% of them are actually my friends, people I speak with or see on a daily or weekly basis. I don’t feel the need to discuss my stand on abortion with some guy I sat next to in a class two years ago. I don’t want to get into a heated discussion about Chick fil a’s recent comments with someone I haven’t spoken to since high school graduation. Maybe if there was a way to have an informed, intellectual, and polite discussion about these things, they wouldn’t devolve so quickly. But, unfortunately, these topics are inflammatory and it is very difficult to have a calm, rational decision about something you’re passionate about with another person who completely disagrees.

Imagine how much simpler it would all be if technology didn’t exist and all we had were our voices, if you had to look someone in the eye and listen to their voice to understand their opinions and beliefs.

I hope someone tweets that.

Thursday Thoughts on Social Media

Social media can be very tricky. Those of us that use it in its various forms want our ideas/thoughts/photos/rants to be read and sometimes there is the safety of anonymity. But what happens when everything becomes linked? Your Facebook friends are your Twitter followers and also read your blog, your grandmother is friends with you on Facebook and your friends’ parents are your “connections” on LinkedIn. You follow high school teachers on Pinterest and some kid you sat next to in Driver’s Ed follows you on Instagram. Thinking about things like this makes me realize how big the generation gap has become. When we try to explain Instagram to our parents: “Well… It’s like Twitter…but with pictures. Get it?” I’m fairly certain that my Mom thinks Pinterest is just my way of feeding my unrealistic imagination/expectations of what the future might hold.

I don’t know what it is about our generation that makes us want to share EVERYTHING we do or think with the world, whether it is some sick voyeuristic need to know what others are doing, or a desire for attention or whether it is an effort to connect to people in a world where everything has become so automated and  impersonal. It is strange to be someone who enjoys Pinterest, Twitter, and Instagram–the mindless, time-consuming Internet black holes–and someone who also thoroughly enjoys the meaningless chats I have with the cashiers at the grocery store or at a boutique.

I think the danger in becoming engrossed in social media exists when electronic interaction takes over our need and desire for real, human interaction.There is also the danger in feeding the collective ego of a generation who already considers ourselves to be entitled and destined for success. Maybe it was our parents telling us to dream big or all those little league teams giving trophies to EVERYONE. Maybe it was the fact that Barbie could be a housewife, a doctor, AND an astronaut all a change of clothes and some ridiculous stiletto heels (what astronaut wears silver pumps??). Maybe it’s just that we grew up (until now) in a time of prosperity, so far removed from the Great Depression and the World Wars that we couldn’t help but be optimistic about our futures. I don’t pretend to have any of those answers.

Which, perhaps, is another reason we cling to the connections that we gain through social media, through the immediate gratification of information that exists right at our fingertips. If we don’t have the answer or even AN answer, maybe someone else will. Although based on the grammar and spelling contained in many of the Twitter/Pinterest/Facebook posts I see, I highly doubt it. People who lack the ability to use the correct forms of there/their/they’re cannot possibly have the answers to the deep existential questions our generation seems so determined to unravel. Maybe I’ll just Tweet some good song lyrics and Pin an inspiring quote. That’ll solve everything. Right?