Twitter and social media as a whole have had a unique presence in the past major election cycle and even continue to do so now. With the second president to exist on social media while in office and probably tweeting from the toilet as we speak, along with the resignation of Representative Katie Hill over cyber exploitation and revenge porn, we’re in a time that has no political precedent. I mean, there’s been scandals in the past, affairs, and the whole Nixon presidency thing — but nothing accelerated by the digital era, or nothing as combative as Trump and the free press.

I started reading Mr. Trump’s Wild Ride earlier today, written by Major Garrett, a long-time White House Reporter. The book provides inside details to the world in which Trump operates. **Some of these inside details, have me even more concerned for the world that we exist in. Our current digital media climate has larger implications than pissing off extended family members on the internet -- it can impact policy decisions as well:

“Trump watches an inordinate amount of television, or as former White House lawyer Ty Cobb told me, ‘a shitload of television.’  From Cobb’s charitable point of view, that makes Trump ‘a great multitasker.’ The first year of his presidency would be defined by the multiple tasks he set in motion and the many mistakes he committed because he watched a shitload of television. What he sees and what he watches--about world events and him--can drive policy.”  -  Major Garrett

This isn’t just the Cheeto-In-Chief’s craziness, however. The internet has had detrimental impacts on other politicians. I’m not trying to get on a soapbox and claim to be apolitical (ahem, everything is political), but after recent pornographic photos, and alleged sexual relationships between Hill and two staffers made headlines and caused for Hill’s resignation, it’s hard to wonder what will come next in politics.

The Atlantic published an article theorising exactly this -- is this the future we can expect in politics? A sex scandal is nothing new, heck - they’re practically as old as this country and with 48% of millennials reportedly sexting once a week, is this something that we only can continue to expect?

A more digitally-active audience only encourages a more digitally-centered campaign. As we ramp up to 2020, we can only expect to see more and more political ads bombarding our social media, and political representatives becoming more and more vocal. Regardless of your political beliefs, we can’t ignore the virality of AOC’s content online. Her college dance videos hit the public limelight in January, and while it was originally meant as a smear to publicly shame her, that backfired.

As I study more and more about digital campaigns and content and this world that we live in, I’m hard-pressed not to understand what we need most. One of my favorite days in class this semester was the day that we had the pleasure and joy of having David Carroll from The Great Hack as a guest lecturer. His breakdown of what Cambridge Analytica did, is something that didn’t appear too out of place for me, as they were common tactics used in digital advertising.

What does this all mean for our personal timelines and social media news feeds? I know I’ll post the occasional political post -- heck, my twitter followers have probably seen me reference Trump as the Cheeto-In-Chief more than once. And I’ll stand by that. But I also take the time to recognize that I’m more politically aware, interested, and involved than the average individual. I’ve worked alongside lobbyists and politicians, volunteered on campaigns (Obama 2012, + 2016), and donated my time to organizations like Planned Parenthood and the ACLU, and I’d do all of those things again. I’ve even shown my support for these organizations on my social media timelines.

While I’m not personally tired of politics on my newsfeed, I understand how others can be. In fact, in a 2019 study by the Pew Research Center, 46% percent of social media users are worn out by how many political posts and discussions they see.  And we’re not even in an election year yet. Will we have the tolerance for civil discourse on politics come 2020?

One thing that I noticed about the Pew Research study is the racial divide. Nonwhite users are significantly less likely to be worn out by the political posts than white users. Digging further into this, I discovered a research study completed in 2013 by Jessie Daniels, race and racism still exist on the internet much like they do in our day to day lives. Well duh, you may be thinking. But diving deeper into that study, we realize the further implications of what this means as it relates to this chart and how everyday users may feel about politics.

In a 2013 study authored by Jesse Daniels, he expands on the concepts that the internet is not free of a racial divide. His study highlights the concepts of race and racism that continue to exist on the internet, and how they can take different forms. One concept we can continue to see is the existence of white privilege.

I recognize my privilege, and working to recognize this is a constant practice. I’m not perfect in anymeans, nor will claim to be, but can understand where my perspective as a cis, white, straight, female, raised in an upper middle class household can be different from other individuals in the world around us. - and consciously recognize as something that I need to be aware of in my life. In a study completed by Theresa L. Petray and Rowan Collin -- where they looked at social media activism and how Twitter users identified how white privilege is reproduced “including justifications for racial inequality, questioning claims to racial differences, and constructing an exclusively white national identity” -- we can further see this disconnect.

With whiteness often assumed as the default in our society, what is commonly (and wrongly) considered what is “normal,” we can begin to unravel the larger issue of how this Pew Research study alludes to a more problematic trend as we come to politics and social media.

“Among racial categories, whiteness is often the invisible default (Case, 2012). It is considered normal and neutral, the yardstick against which other races are measured (Carr, 2016).” --  Theresa L. Petray and Rowan Collin,

My take? If you’re annoyed with politics and political discussion on your social media timeline - you’re privileged in some sort. It either:

  • doesn’t directly impact you
  • you’re not aware of how it impacts you
  • apathetic towards a flawed system

Which I recognize how it may come across as fighting words - but that is not my intention at all. We’re all too quick to have an opinion on things that don’t affect us or that we haven’t researched. And that’s probably the biggest issue I see with digital media and politics in this day and age.

And it’s not just one offensive individual. Examining the case of Rep. Katie Hill further, we can see how yes, someone committed the horrendous act of revenge porn, but they’re not the only ones to blame. We should also be holding the news organizations that continue to question her character, as well as chose to run those photos accountable as well. A better media climate will take all of us. I’m looking at you, Cheeto-in-Chief.

So, what can you do about this perpetual issue regarding politics on social media?

Next time you see something political on social media; ask yourself if it violates your own morals. I find myself checking for racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, incorrect information, and so on and so forth. I look who shared the piece, is it a reputable news organization, or a less-trustworthy organization.

If it’s just political news, remember that social media is just one of the avenues in which it reached you. Try understanding why it annoyed you, or heck - take a second to read it and understand what’s going on the world. And craziest of all? Maybe just scroll on by.

Don’t complain about social media, you’re using the platform for the cost of your own data, and no meme can protect you from that.

When it comes to family members and friends posting political content, take a second to see what type of content they’re posting and why they may be posting it. It’s no doubt we sometimes have conflicting feels, and you don’t have to agree with everything they post. Again, run it through the moral test - but recognize that it’s hard to simply block, unfriend, or even just cancel them when they’re our loved ones.

And doing deeper internet research provides us no clear cut answer on what to do if your family member is posting something that violates your own moral code. Vice encourages us to take mental health in account (true), but if you’re choosing to confront - keep a firm but assertive tone. While Eater posted that you have the moral obligation to call out racist / sexist / homophobic comments your family made at the dinner table, an op-ed in the Washington Post tells the tale of one parent allowing their children to block extended family members.

“What’s actually happening here is that you’re being asked to overlook bigotry in favor of politeness, which is a classic modeling of the way that calls for civility are used to excuse this behavior and suppress pushback against it.” - Amy McCarthy for Eater

Whatever you choose to do, recognize that opting out of politics is a political choice and one that comes from a stance of privilege. And be aware of how the online world has a larger impact on our political leaders, policies, and elections than ever before - should we really be avoiding politics on social media after all?

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