Repeating your opinions to a group of friends who agree with you is lazy masturbation.
In a weak moment, I commented an argument to a stranger’s political post for the first time in years yesterday and it’s been weighing on me ever since. While I was eloquent, respectful, and logical, I know that it not only went against everything I believe about politics on social media, but it only perpetuated the giant cultural conflict we’ve created through our internet forums.
Arguing with strangers and friends on Facebook about politics is only hurting us, both individually and as a society. I’ve known this for a couple years now and assumed we’d all come to this realization before the firestorm that was Election 2016.
Instead, I watched as friends both left- and right-leaning continued to screech “WAKE UP!!” across the fence and hammered wedges between each other, sometimes to cataclysmic results.
Listen, I believe in refusing to remain silent when others are being oppressed. I believe that political indifference is how evil things are allowed to happen. But I do not believe that constantly bellowing my political thoughts at those in my social circle is accomplishing anything other than creating segregated cliques and ultimately turning us aggressively against each other as we splinter off into different factions of individualized beliefs.
The first harsh truth is that, much like preachers standing on street corner soapboxes, people stop listening after awhile if they’re constantly spouting off the same rhetoric to the same audience — no matter how well-informed said person may be.
Think of how many people you’ve unfollowed or outright blocked because you were tired of their political or religious posts, regardless of what side they were on. I personally unfollowed my best friend on social media for all of 2016; the redundancy and insistence on constant nitpicking politicians became too much to endure from anyone, even my platonic soulmate.
This silencing of each other's voices is exactly what EVERYONE online is doing, which is why — especially after this contentious election year — online political pundits are essentially just left posting thoughts to an online echo chamber for validation on their statements.
The only social change happening here is the rising trend of writing people off because of their difference of opinion.
If you want to change others’ hearts and minds, you have to put in the work and sit down with people to talk to them one-on-one. A few years ago, my Fox News-watching, Obama-hating, grandmother-in-law was at my house and scoffed, “I just don’t understand these feminists. I believe this is a man’s world.”
Now, if she’d commented that on my Facebook page, undoubtedly she’d be met with a barrage of angry attacks from my friends, declaring that women like her are the enemy and so on, thus distancing her further from understanding the root cause of the movement. However, because I knew her personally and realized she’d probably been misinformed by right-wing media, I was able to sit with her and calmly ask how she could condemn feminism even though she was a single mother who started her own business.
She responded that she thought women and men should be paid the same amount but that women shouldn’t believe themselves to be better than men or that men are evil. She seemed stunned when I told her that feminism is just exactly what she’d just described. By the end of the conversation, she laughed, “Well, I guess I AM a feminist then!”
I watch my friends engage in angry conversations with both strangers and people they claim to care about online every day and never once have I seen a moment like the one I had with my grandmother-in-law. I never hear “Someone’s angry comment to my political thread changed my whole life” or “That meme you posted was a pivotal moment for me.”
What I DO see are like-minded friends commenting, “That meme was spot on!” or “Your post resonated with me!” all the time. If you want further proof that we’re enclosing ourselves in social bubbles, just talk to any of the millions of people who were completely convinced Hillary would win this election and absolutely bewildered when it didn’t happen because they’d blocked out the voices of the millions in opposition.
The second (and harshest) truth is that sharing political posts and raising awareness about your opinions makes you a philosopher, not an activist. “Activism” means that you’re ACTIVE. Activism requires sending money, donating time, and making real, physical efforts to enact change within causes you are passionate about.
Repeating your same opinions to a group of friends who agrees with you is nothing more than lazy masturbation in the form of creating the illusion that you care about your world instead of genuinely working to show it.
To cite writer Iva-Marie Palmer, "Facebook 'activism' is like a bad boyfriend or a Disney dad. You can be saying all the right things but it doesn't matter if you don't show up when you're needed. Social media plus political opinions ultimately make us docile and useless because we're overstuffed with too much to care about."
A disgusting example of this was the thousands of posts "showing solidarity" with the protesters at the Dakota Pipeline by "checking in" to Standing Rock on Facebook. What an insulting notion, that these people sacrificing their safety while camping in the cold for weeks would feel like you are showing any reverence by clicking "I was here!" to show off to your friends on Facebook. And how ridiculous to think that the bureaucrats in charge of this operation would change their minds because a bunch of uninvolved spectators sent thoughts and prayers.
The same anger frustrates me when friends respond to every newsworthy tragedy by making empty gestures of adding profile picture filters or wearing ribbons. These actions do NOTHING. They benefit none of the people who are involved. They just make you feel good about yourself before you move on to the next trending news item.
Similarly, in an age in which we are overwhelmed with information, we seem to believe that reposting from varied online media sources is actively educating our loved ones, which is frustratingly reductive and ultimately false.
The rate at which misleading or partial truths are making the rounds on Facebook, Instagram, and even Tumblr are alarming, and the right is as guilty as the left in these cases. So many people love to boast about being “well-informed” but don’t take the time to examine the supposed information they’re receiving and sharing.
On Trump’s first day in office, I saw a flurry of anger when Huffington Post reported that he’d “signed an anti-abortion executive order surrounded by white men” with people going into complete meltdown mode, believing that he’d singlehandedly taken away all our rights, when a simple reading of the article will show that this action didn’t actually take anyone’s abortion funding away at all since the U.S. wasn’t providing it overseas in the first place. It was disgusting how many of my educated, intelligent friends were quick to believe this blatant clickbait title and fly into outrage without knowing the extent of what they were suddenly livid about.
Sharing half-truths or biased information is as bad as lying to your friends and family and, if spreading awareness is your only form of political engagement, you owe it to yourself to really know what the hell is going on.
To be blunt, I’m not sure I understand how people don’t see they’re getting played by clickbait titles in the first place. We’ve been living in this online media society for a while now, guys. We’re all prey to ad revenue via outrageous article titles. When are we going to start doing our own homework?
We've seen copious evidence to suggest that social media can be the linchpin in the initiation of social movements — dozens of protests and uprisings have been organized on Facebook that were instrumental in bringing about significant governmental change across the planet. However, if you're not going online to tell people when and where to meet to make solid plans for revolution, you're wasting your time and ultimately discouraging discourse.
More than my anger about the way our political conversations online have devolved, I'm frustrated we don't see the futility of it yet. I don't understand how so many people can screech about politics to a group of like-minded Facebook friends and genuinely believe that it's creating positive change when there's overwhelming evidence to prove that it's doing the exact opposite.
I can't believe we can't recognize how this pugilistic online battlefield is influencing our real-world interactions and how we're all complicit in the very hostility and intolerance we're railing against from "the other side."