Is the Social Network Working? (A Commentary on Political Commentary)

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Miranda de Moraes

AHAHAHAAH TRUMP 2016. Sucks nerds. See your candidate in jail! There goes your political correctness. Welcome to the United states of Trump!!

Trump is a racist, homofobic [sic], sexist, corrupt, narcisistic bigot. He’s literaly [sic] Hitler, but worse.

I have family members who are voting for this lying piece of garbage: Hillary. Please please please just look at the wall of lies. Look at all the lives she’s destroyed.

As 2016 crept closer, politics dominated media platforms as expected, from Alec Baldwin’s hysterically funny Donald Trump impression on Saturday Night Live to Hillary Clinton’s email scandal, featured daily on CNN and FOX News. However, social networking applications are now the true epicenter of political discussion.

Uncensored partisan defamations like those beginning the article flooded my Facebook news feed. Social media undermines the power of physical distance or emotional closeness by connecting us (and our opinions) in a free, cyber forum, enabling and promoting our First Amendment rights to free expression. Especially on Facebook, adding anyone and everyone you know is common, which can be dangerous as users ignore the ability of their own posts to cause interaction between groups of “friends” (Grandma Becky vs Jim from Tinder) who would be better off staying apart.

Therefore, statuses cannot be geared to any one person in particular if one has an enormous range of followers. Though posts may be associated through a stream on a feed, blasphemous political opinions shared through social networking foil the consistency of content. Mediums intended to connect people have instead further divided those in our lives. Though political social media may just be media, its impact on users has incited real life action, sometimes resulting in great civil division and sometimes leading to unprecedented civil union.

The destructive effects of social networking on relationships are real. Friends grew so far divided throughout the course of this recent election that they cut ties, officiated by a simple click on the “un-friend” button.

“I’m not gonna lie, I blocked people on Facebook after election day,” admitted Sophia Khoury, a liberal student at Wellesley College, Hillary Clinton’s alma mater. “[My best friend] voted for Trump and posted way too much about it, I don’t even know if I can bear to see her again.”

Troy Beckon, a first year biology major at the University of California, Santa Barbara, has also made a conscious effort to censor his feed to prevent those with disparate ideas from infiltrating his social media accounts. He proudly asserts, “the majority of statuses on my feed are consistent with my views.”

In contrast, Jack Mintz, a first year biology major at UCSB, acknowledges, “I don’t shy away from having friends with opposing views on Facebook. I don’t discriminate or filter who my friends are on social media.”

I prefer to see a variety of viewpoints on my feed: they provide me with distinct perspectives to critically understand political issues. Perhaps the choice to standardize one’s feed is not correlated to party loyalty, but rather to one’s open-mindedness.

Many political posters utilize social media as an opportunity to argue their views. Numerous Republicans and Democrats alike can attest that the sharing of pages, memes, and statuses in order to reinforce friends’ beliefs played a vital role in molding the results of this unique presidential election.

Max Minshull, a conservative student attending Stanford University, concedes that “there’s a lot of people that voted for Trump who are a little more on the less educated side who expressed support for pro-Trump memes. Trump really relied on social media to mobilize his identity … and that was clearly really effective for him.”

From a liberal perspective, I concur that social media is highly effective as a political tool. Donald Trump proved that with his use of Twitter. Donald Trump’s Twitter has received an exceptional amount of attention, spawning the worst allegations both by Trump and leveled at Trump by his critics.

Tweets on @realDonaldTrump like “The best taco bowls are made in Trump Tower Grill. I love Hispanics!” received over 85,000 retweets and 119,000 likes. People of all partisan orientations can agree that Trump is unlikely to have progressed so far as to become President of the United States without his preeminent social media presence, furthered by our “friends” and “follows.”

Given the conspicuous divide social media can foster, social networking can equally unify like-minded individuals in pursuing a common goal and achieving real world results. Coping Hillary supporters came together after enduring their worst nightmare by establishing a Facebook page entitled Pantsuit Nation.

Erica Griggs, a liberal activist at UC Los Angeles and an active member of Pantsuit Nation, describes it as “an outlet to grieve, empathize, link, and act.” She recalls a story posted by a transgender woman who bravely shared her excruciating experience on a bus with violent Trump supporters.

Griggs grew so inspired by Pantsuit Nation that she purchased a plane ticket to Washington, D.C. to attend the Million Women March on Jan. 21 to actively protest Donald Trump’s inauguration.

I am absolutely convinced that this unprecedented female-run event would not have been made possible without social media resources like Pantsuit Nation. Thus, despite the destructive elements of social networking, like the breaching of friendships with opposing political views, there are prominent positives to online social media platforms. Applications like Facebook possess unparalleled power in manipulating the results of an event as notable as the 2016 presidential election.

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