Mixing politics and social media

Published 9:00 am Thursday, August 10, 2017

By Will Collins

I was reading an article today which suggested politics be left to the more intelligent percentage of the population. Everyone else should just sit back and let those individuals run our nation, states and local communities. I found this quite humorous.

I have never doubted the intelligence of our leaders, only some of the thought processes that went into their decision making. Maybe this is partly what President Ronald Reagan meant when he said “government is the problem.”

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As citizens, we are not always going to agree with the decisions our leaders make, which is why the power of the vote is so important. It’s crucial for us to make voting decisions based on the most accurate information we can acquire. Such  information, however, is not always going to be found on social media, which many people rely upon when forming opinions.

The PEW Research Center, a non-partisan group, performed a survey to gather information regarding individuals’ thoughts on certain political topics pertaining to social media. To me, the results were not particularly surprising.

Only 20 percent of respondents said they like seeing a lot of political content in their news feed. While 41 percent stated they did not feel strongly about all of the political posts and discussions, 37 percent said they were “completely worn out” by the political landscape on social media.

To break this group down, 39 percent of those who post significant amounts of political material also enjoy seeing more posts from others, while only 11 percent of those who do not post political information like seeing a lot of political information on these sites. Another 35 percent are still feeling worn out regardless if they post or not.

What surprised me most was how stressful people find it to discuss politics with individuals they disagree with. Of the Republicans surveyed, 58 percent find it more stressful while 60 percent of Democrats felt the same.

A whopping 84 percent say they post things on social media they may not otherwise express in a personal setting. Eighty-three percent said they ignore posts they disagree with and move on, rather than trying to engage in conversation.

The sad thing about all of this is how social media has altered some friendships because of differences of political opinion. In fact, 39 percent say they have either blocked or chosen to minimize the amount of posts they see from particular people. I guess it goes back to the finding that users are more likely to post things they wouldn’t normally discuss in social settings.

It is true a lot of good information is available on Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets, but I encourage you to not completely take it all at face value. It frightens me that 20 percent of respondents admit that something they saw or read on social media caused them to change their mind regarding an issue or candidate.

In my own experience, I’ve found that people believe most things which align with their own political stances and disagree with those that do not, regardless of content. This is fine to a certain point, but can be dangerous when the topic is particularly absurd.

For example, a friend of mine posted a photo during the campaign of candidate Donald Trump standing at attention during a GOP presidential debate. The image showed all the candidates with their hands over their hearts during the singing of our national anthem while Trump had both hands at his side. My friend made a comment on how pathetic he was for not showing the proper respect.

I responded by telling her it was a fake. She quickly stated she had watched this debate and remembered seeing Trump not placing his hand over his heart during the anthem.

I then followed up by sending her a video clip from the debate, showing all candidates, including Trump, with their hands over their hearts. She apologized and deleted her post.

It’s important to gather information in order to form opinions, but be sure the information is accurate. As President Abraham Lincoln once said, “You can’t believe everything you read on the internet.”

Political enthusiast Will Collins is a lifelong resident of Kentucky and has called Winchester his home for the past 20 years. He can be reached at wrcollins70@gmail.com.