When was the last time you scrolled through your Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram without stumbling upon some semblance of political media, friends, or family weighing in on the latest issue or bashing the President, or seeing someone brazenly attack others on an ad hominem basis?
Probably not so recently. According to the Pew Research Center, sixty-seven percent of Americans get at least some of their news and bearings on current events from social media. While these networks have done immeasurable amounts of good for our connectivity with the broader world and each other, one area that citizens of our internet state consistently come up short in is political discourse over social media.
The vicious and nasty political conversations online are quickly becoming a massive problem in our national discourse. While it is well-documented that people behind screens are more likely to be cruel, it is time that we frame this issue a different way. A recent poll also found that 49% of Americans have seen or taken part in ‘malicious’ online comments related to politics. In my opinion, this poll still sells the malfeasance of social media users in this country short and understates the negative effects they have had on our national discourse.
The next time you are about to tap ‘send’ to fling insults of our leader being ‘orange’ or ‘racist’, don’t. This is what our enemies want you to do. More divisions in our politics mean a less unified America, which gives our adversaries abroad far more room to operate.
The polarizing and diluting effects of online comments have had very tangible effects on our political process. Russians were easily able to mimic the Twitter accounts of some of the more crude Trump supporters and create a still undetermined number of pro-Trump false accounts to run interference in our election. The scope and influence of Russian interference is still unknown, but it is time to take a step back. How have we gotten to a juncture as Americans, where our political thoughts and musings are so utterly absurd, irresponsible, and ire-inducing that a foreign power antithetical to the ideals of our great country has been able to successfully imitate and undermine our democratic process?
It is high time that we all reevaluate our behavior in political discourse online. Republican Senator Flake aptly pointed out in a recent speech that our national dialogue has more “indecency” and “coarseness” than ever. This statement, while subjective, is broadly true, and this author unequivocally agrees with Senator Flake’s comments. If we want to overcome this era of shame and make our children and grandchildren proud, here’s how we do it.
It is inevitable that people feel strongly enough about certain issues that they feel it is necessary to share their ideas about governance on social media. There is no umbrage to be taken with this action, insofar as it is done so in the manner that our founding fathers would expect from us. A tweet or a post should never be a baseless indictment of your political opponent’s character. If we are to move on from a President, who in Senator Flake’s apt remarks, “ensure[s] the stability of the entire world is routinely threatened by the level of thought that goes into 140 characters” then we cannot stoop to a level of political rhetoric where we, too, insult our executive and those who are in power personally. Expressing one’s views on social media should not be an opportunity to insult or engage in vulgarity. Naturally, it has become all too easy in our sociopolitical zeitgeist to fling insults at the Trump Administration. Anyone with principles, a moral backbone, or any honor at all should not engage in this behavior.
Yes, we as citizens reserve the right to insult our political leaders (something that will get you jailed or worse in most places in this world), but in lieu of this, use your constitutional freedoms more responsibly. A post, tweet, or comment should be an invitation to conversation with someone differing in perspective so a solution can be found, not a chance to drive the wedge further between ideologies. If one opts for insults, this not just opens the door for more easy interference by states like Russia in our discourse, but also makes us no better than our current Executive whose childish use of Twitter is unbecoming of the office of the Presidency.
Granted, my criticism of President Trump’s Twitter habits does come with a caveat of sorts—the media does not give him a fair chance, and Twitter is a great direct way to reach the public.
Think about it in simple terms: is insulting anyone ever going to get them to change their mind about anything at all? No, common sense would dictate that it would just further envelop people in their ideas and confirm their biases. It is really quite simple: stop insulting people on social media. Try hearing their side of the story for once—this truly should be an apolitical and non-partisan issue.
Granted, my criticism of President Trump’s Twitter habits does come with a caveat of sorts—the media does not give him a fair chance, and Twitter is a great direct way to reach the public. There is indeed evidence of this. The ‘Golden Showers’ dossier had nearly no merit, and yet got sickening amounts of airtime this spring and summer. The media giants consistently run stories that are synthesized fantasies on how to impeach our President, when Special Counsel Muller’s investigation has turned absolutely no stones over that Trump has committed an impeachable offense.
Notwithstanding the ‘liberal media’ and its unfairness to Trump, it would behoove our conservative readers to try a thought experiment. For the next two weeks, only read sources regarded as more liberal, and discern your own opinions rather than the ones offered by conservative news outlets. Reading across the political spectrum is crucial to understanding what is going on in our country right now. This also goes for liberals—drop The New Yorker and read the National Review. If we are to endure this toxic political era, it is high time we start finding common ground and treating each other with respect instead of pretending that it does not exist.
I will close my comments with a challenge. The next time you see someone post something that you are angered by and want to insult them over, message them instead and have a conversation. The next time you are about to tap ‘send’ to fling insults of our leader being ‘orange’ or ‘racist’, don’t. This is what our enemies want you to do. More divisions in our politics mean a less unified America, which gives our adversaries abroad far more room to operate.
George Washington once said, ““Every action done in company ought to be with some sign of respect to those that are present.” In our politico-internet state, everyone behind a screen is present. Heed our Founding Father’s words: be respectful and make our country what it should be.