Playing politics on social media

Politics and religion.  If you ask your parents or grandparents the two things that should never be talked about among family, that that is it.  They will say that no good can some from talking about politics or religion in large groups, because often times someone will have a strong opinion that most others will not like, and that it can divide and break families because there are such strong feelings on the subject.  And apparently, they were right.

 

The 2008 presidential election was widely regarded as the coming out party for social media use in politics.  President Obama successfully used Facebook and Twitter to help him get the youth vote.  Now how much that actually helped can be debated, since many people would argue that he was going to win that election anyway, but the sheer effectiveness of the use of social media cannot be denied.  Obama and his staff clearly understood how important those types of tools are to reach the younger generations, the ones that are more and more becoming the voting bracket that will decided elections.  Their depth of understanding is evident based on the frustration that Obama's administration has had with the restrictive tech policies of the US government.  Obama basically had to beg and plead to be able to have a BlackBerry after he became President, and even after he won, his BlackBerry is heavily encrypted and can only communicate with a handful of other phones/devices.

There were even glimpses of use of social media during the 2008 federal election in Canada, which was a few weeks prior to the American one.  It wasn't nearly as prevalent, but the people that were on social media used it to talk, debate, and learn about the issues. Those politicians who used them had a much more engaged community of voters.

The community of people on social media, Twitter especially, was much different in 2008.  During the 2008 Canadian and Federal Elections I was able to have active, constructive debates and discussions with people from all over the country, continent, and sometimes even planet about things that were happening in those campaigns.  It felt good to be able to engage with a group of people who didn't simply engage in partisan politics.  Regardless of who people supported, we could talk, and not berate each other.  I will never forget the night of the US election in 2008.  I was alone in a hotel room in Moncton, New Brunswick, and I was able to watch on TV, as well as engage on Twitter as results came in.  I felt much more connected to what was happening that I would have been had I simply been alone in a hotel room with no real communications tool.  that day really changed my thoughts and opinions on Twitter, and was the first time that I felt that it was really something that could change how people communicate, and I think I was right.

Now, let's fast foward to late 2010 and 2011.  The use of Facebook and Twitter has exploded.  There are 750 million Facebook accounts and 250 Million Twitter accounts.  Almost every politician, or at least their campaign/staff office, has a twitter account.  The level of engagement it much higher, especially with the youth vote, than it was 15 years ago.  Not everyone uses social media effectively, but I think it is obvious that it can't be ignored anymore, and at least one person working for most politicians seems to agree.

Now, the community that participates in social media today is, as mentioned quite different than 2008.  The main reason for this is simply tonnage.  There are more people on social media now than there were 3 years ago, and because of that there are more voices, and that is not always a good thing.  I subscribe to two different theories that apply to social media today.  One is that a person alone can be smart, but people are significantly less smart.  That is the mob mentality.  The other is John Gabriel's Greater Internet Theory.  I'll let you look that up specifically, but the SFW version of it is that giving someone anonymity and a large audience usually ends badly.

Because of the sheer volume of people who now actively use Facebook, Twitter, etc. I find that it is much harder to be able to talk about anything political, or really, any controversial topic there anymore; especially Twitter.  On election day in Canada in 2010, I took to Twitter, like countless others did, to be part of the conversation.  But I found that nearly everything I said was met with responses from people that bordered on hostile.  Even when I was simply tweeting the current results of the election and how many seats each party was leading in, I had responses that ranged from "THIS IS THE BEST THING EVER" to "WHAT ARE PEOPLE DOING I'M MOVING TO MEXICO." A simple tweet of "Conservatives only 15 seats from a majority" was met with the most hostile response, claiming that people like me were ruining the country, and that I should have been ashamed of myself for voting for Stephen Harper's Conservatives.  The worst one told me that by voting conservative I had given my support to taking away a woman's right to choose to have an abortion.  I was simply stunned, mainly because I have never once told anyone who I have voted for in any election I have voted in since I was 18.  People assumed that I had voted Conservative simply because I said that they were only 15 seats away from a majority.  I would have said the same thing had the NDP or Liberal been in that position.  I guess I would have been accused of voting for them in that case.  Partisan Politics have invaded social media in a big way, and in a way that is detrimental to the overall experience of using that social media.

Let's now come to today.  In Edmonton there is a big debate happening about a new downtown arena.  I'm not going to turn this into a debate about whether or not public funds should go into the arena, but every time I have given my opinion on Twitter on what I think, I'm always met with a few responses that simply tell me that I'm wrong, and that I don't know what I'm talking about.  Now honestly, that's fine, tell me you disagree with me, but then tell me why, or give me your idea.  People who know me know that I love having a good, constructive debate with anyone, but as social media has exploded in popularity, that is becoming harder and harder.

It comes back to the mob mentality.  The larger the group or audience, the more likely we are to have bad apples in that group.  For me, this has changed how I use social media.  It won't stop me from talking about things sometimes, and I still use it to follow current events of course, but how I actually engage is changing.  I don't actively engage in debate over politics anymore, and when I do, it is very limited.  I'm not going to stop entirely, but I'm learning to pick my spots a lot more, and for those that do reply with useless responses, well the block button is a wonderful thing.

Social Media is a revolution, in both a good way and a bad way.  I've talked many times about how I love social media and have found many good uses for it, as well as how it has changed how I interact with people.  Social Media has literally saved lives, and let people connect in ways that simply did not exist 5 years ago, and that is a wonderful thing.  But as it has opened to more and more people, the regular conventions of conversation now apply, more than ever.

Politics and religion people, politics and religion.