Politics in Online Social Networking

Society is ever changing. People often react to modern news by voicing their opinions and engaging in conversation with other people amongst them in society. When a controversial topic arises, or a decision is made that affects individuals separately, people find out from various sources, and a lengthy discussion normally takes place. Most of the time discussions do remain civil, but in the given chance that two sides form from a single decision, protests and public displays of disagreement or agreement may occur. How people interact with one another may vary, but the mediums that people utilize to share and receive their news is now very constant. The most convenient way to catch up on the news or recent events used to be via newspapers and watching television. While those means of news gathering can still be efficient, television players are not always around, and newspapers normally come with a significant delay (it typically takes a day to publish recent news). Cell phones, tablets, laptops and other technological devices that provide constant access to social networking sites now fill that void, supplying society with the quickest way to learn of recent events. Social media is now where everyone can access the news, discuss politics, and share information with everyone in the world. 

Social media websites have become powerful social connectivity resources that people use to connect with one another, engage in civic discussion and discourse, and to learn of recent news and events. When something happens in the world and someone finds out about it, they normally write about it, take a picture of it, record it, and post it online. One particular article, “Stop Googling. Let’s Talk”, written for Sherry Turkle, discusses how people are online frequently with no end in sight, and it derives the notion that what people see, combined with a lot of people’s reactions, will eventually end up online. Using this method, people end up sharing content with thousands, if not millions of people online, almost instantaneously. Turkle says in her article, “Every technology asks us to confront human values. This is a good thing, because it causes us to reaffirm what they are” (pg. 5). According to Turkle, what we hear, see and share online will always warrant a deeper human emotional response. 

Turkle also shows the relevancy of these technologies in our daily lives. She shares in her article, “One 15-year-old I interviewed at a summer camp talked about her reaction when she went out to dinner with her father and he took out his phone to add “facts” to their conversation” (pg. 2), an example that shows how social media plays a huge role in our day to day lives, despite our physical location. The ability to share information online with other people at rapid speeds ensures that we are now capable of being effective influencers in our respective societies. Society is at a point where social media is gaining more significance in its use every day, and it is important to note that we can and will utilize these devices for communication in social settings. Whether for sharing factual news articles, summaries of world events, or personal statements on specific matters, social media now encourages our desire to converse about what we have learned, and it maintains that society’s inhabitants remain informed and politically connected.

Today’s political climate, filled with controversy and many topics that require discussion, instinctively encourages a lot of society to converse and share political information online. The current President of The United States of America consistently uses the social networking site Twitter to critique his party’s values, endorse politicians and laws, and insult people that have criticized him. He even takes to this platform to verbally attack private American citizens. While he may appear to show little to no empathy when criticizing others on Twitter, it is easy to infer that what he says and shares with the American people, and the world, will explicitly warrant human reaction from both supporters and non-supporters. L. Mark Carrier’s article, “Virtual Empathy”, talks deeply about the effects that being online has on our empathy. A majority of the article discusses how being online can result in minor shifts in one’s empathy toward the real world based upon what they are looking at through their respective monitors. It concludes that “being behind a screen does not eliminate empathy among technology users. Further, the present results show that going online generally does not appear to reduce peoples’ capacity for real-world empathy” (Carrier pg. 47). It continues, saying “Rather, spending time online that results in or increases the chances of F2F encounters actually contributes positively to real world empathy” (Carrier pg. 47). It is not a change in our empathy, but a display in a lack of empathy which stems from discussing and viewing political matters online which arguably elicits our response, and our responses can range from posting replies online, to becoming politically active in face to face social settings. With the most powerful man in the world voicing their opinions and beliefs on social media, we too ought to be doing the exact same thing.

Since being online does not completely erode empathy, social media can be a useful tool for people to express their political views and interact faster than ever before. Lori Ann Wagner explains in her article, “When Your Smartphone is Too Smart for Your Own Good: How Social

Media Alters Human Relationships”, that human beings thrive off of social interaction. Her article discusses how human begins thrive from social interaction, and how communication online can often be a slippery slope, given there is always a lack of human connectivity. In her article, Wagner says “In fact, it appears we are neurologically attuned to be social creatures. Mirror neurons allow us to feel and experience another’s situation as if it were our own” (pg. 115). Human beings programmed to feeling empathetic toward others, and this fact can lead one to suggest that from which was previously mentioned, Trump’s actions online, are now beaconing responses from American citizens across the nation, online and face to face. Just recently, people stormed the steps of The Capital in a form of protest to the selection of Judge Kavanaugh as a Supreme Court Justice. If it were not for videos being posted on Youtube, activist groups being formed on Facebook, and times and locations being shared on Twitter, most people may have never known of the protests against the selection of Kavanaugh. Wagner states later in her article “Furthermore, face-to-face communications give us something we lose in mediated communications:  the ability to engage our five senses simul­taneously” (pg. 116), and sometimes that lack of what we want acts as catalyst to our future actions. In order to connect, people are conforming to methods such as discussing political matters on Facebook and sharing as much information as they can via Twitter with the world, to elicit greater responses. At this very instant, anyone can access Twitter and other social networking sites and see that a lot of trending articles are all politically oriented, with the potential of each article being the beginning of the next great political activist movement.

The impact social media and technology has on our civic and political engagements throttles our desire to further the conversation of modern politics. These modern technologies allow us access to faster means of communication, and they allow us to assimilate and plan future events much better than any resource we have had in the past. Discussing political matters online affects our empathy in a way that we yearn to find a way to create change, and any change that occurs may be necessary for people to feel and emotionally understand the gravity of what they are sharing and learning about. Discussing political matters online helps to spread messages to individuals who would usually not be as interested in any political affairs. With the current state of politics, people understand how important it is to remain involved, and social networking sites dramatically help people to connect with one another.

The freedoms of the people of a nation, specifically their constitutional right to free speech, enriches people with many great ways to proactively engage in the political processes of advancing a society. Exercising your freedom of speech encompasses a variety of communicative forms that inhibit people with ways of expressing their desires and concerns. Of the many ways people have created to communicate with one another, some of the more prominent forms include political rallies and protests, structured debates and forum discussions, and face-to-face, passionate conversation with friends and family members about concerning topics in politics and society.

The many platforms that citizens use to communicate increasingly prove that they are great ways to express their opinions and viewpoints about specific political topics. Twitter, for example, is a great website to rapidly share one’s opinions and factual input in the blink of an eye. This social media application is commonly referenced on live news feeds by political representatives, news anchors and journalists, and is also a go-to source for The President of The

United States of America as a way of contacting his supporters. Facebook, another social media platform, is a website that people can use to form groups that target people with certain ideologies. Facebook is also used to create events that can take place anywhere in the world in a matter of hours, to include political rallies, protests and public meetings with political representatives. These platforms, and the many just like it, allow people to communicate via the many-to-many method, a way of communication that allows one individual to instantly reach many people as opposed to just one other person. This way of communicating not only increases the likelihood of being effective, it also has the potential to create new methods of communication. 

In the article “Can Information and Communications Technology Enhance

Social Quality?” Claire Wallace discusses the social quality and ramifications of various forms of communication. Wallace’s article includes discussion of the Social Quality Theory, a theory “developed as a way of studying the quality of society by considering how self-realization is enabled by social conditions.” (pg. 98). When discussing one of the positive impacts of social media, Wallace states “Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) are transforming our social world in ways that enhance existing social relationships but also make possible the creation of new ones. Key to this is how individuals and communities use this technology, which happens in rapid and unpredictable ways, with new forms of inclusion and exclusion” (pg. 99).

The rapid use of these social media websites and the variety of ways they can be used, proves how great these platforms are for spontaneous, rapid and effective communication. People are no longer forced to wait to share news and political ideals with friends and colleagues face-to-face.

Instead, using fast and rapid social media, people can take to many platforms and share news and events in closed circles, or with the entire world.

Social media is a growing powerful tool to connect people of all ages together. It creates

an easily accessible, and eye opening means of communication, and regardless of how favorable it may be viewed, it increasingly acts as a gateway into the political stratosphere for many of the younger and uninformed. In the article ““I don’t like it and I think it’s useless, people discussing politics on Facebook:” Young Swedes’ understandings of social media use for political discussion”, Malin Sveningsson gives an overview into the lives of 26 young Swedish citizens.

In this article, it is expressed that many young people feel communicating online about politics can at times feel very useless, highlighting though that it is incredibly prevalent in their lives. A consensus forms from their study about how communicating effectively online requires many rules, which is typically that effective dialogue and debate online requires that all parties remain civil and adhere to basic standards when engaging with one another. Sveningsson states that “One expression that often recurred during interviews and discussions was ‘out of hand’, where the common understanding was that discussions on social media are unruly and frequently hostile. Instead, our participants prefer discussing politics in safe zones, typically in private and semi- private settings offline.” (Sveningsson). The notion that social media websites can create unruly atmospheres is undoubtedly true. Many platforms allow people to argue their viewpoints and ideas with the added benefit of bias. This creates environments that can lead to toxic behavior, and it can be hard sometimes to decipher fact from fiction. Many websites now go through great length to moderate political discussion. Reddit, a social networking website designed for sharing and discussion, employs moderators to oversee discussions that occur on their website, and enforces the censorship of anyone who break their rules. Younger people do engage in political discussion online, and not as their only means of communication, but as a gateway to new and more useful means of communications. Many new preferences of wanting to discuss politics in safer zones stem from the discussing politics online discussion. Conversing about politics online therefore leads to new avenues that further implore comfortable, and more controlled political climates.

Being able to communicate with others about political and social issues over social media most importantly gives everyone the opportunity to stay engaged and publicly display their messages and opinions. By utilizing websites that connect mass amounts of users, one can now create a platform to promote specific social issues, while also creating grassroots social movements, and in conjunction, be combative against the messages of corporations that spend excessive amounts of money to silence their voices. Clare Archer-Lean and Heather Pavitt published an article entitled “Politics and Ethics in Social Media”, which discusses the human impact of social media, activism, and how social media can be democratizing. This article discuss at great length how social media can be used by everyday citizens to cut through the fray of misinformation and financed propaganda by unionizing their voices and giving them an array of platforms that encourages a democratizing world. 

Archer-Lean and Pavitt state that “YouTube and social media gives ordinary people, including members of unions, the ability to tell their story. In many ways, this is simply drawing on a pre-existing tradition within the union movement of valuing oral history to provide meaningful collective identity and camaraderie to sustain politically active communities” (pg. 4), effectively arguing for the conjoined social impacts of union groups with online communities, and how the two can enhance the effects of one another. The power of social media and how it can connect others is a great way for people to let others know what is going on in the workplace, when events that promote common issues will take place, and when representatives will be in their areas. Websites like Facebook allow unions to organize web pages specifically designed for Union groups, social movements, and other communities aimed at ensuring people have a platform, and can remain connected. Social media greatly increases the chances that people will be able to connect with those around them. It is a gateway into worlds where otherwise limitations may have been emplaced. Today, companies, organizations, schools and many other bodies of people promote and encourage connecting through social media. People are now capable of extending their voices to circles far greater than their inner circles, and they can use this outreach to promote their political agendas, ensuring that their voices are always heard.   

While there are many arguable benefits to engaging in civic political discussion online, there too remains a strong opposition to this form of communication. Frequent use of social networking for political purposes is also said to alter our perception of one another. There are many people who argue, just how the article written by Malin Sveningsson conjunctively did, that discussing politics online has a negative effect on how people engage in political actions face to face, and that it depletes our empathy and has a reverse psychological effect on people. I must disagree with the notion that consistent use of social media for politics is detrimental to bridging the gap for who eventually connects with one another, and also the notion that communicating online about politics is now so ineffective that it discourages people from further engagement. Online political discussion does in fact lead to more constructive means of communication; it narrows the gap between connectivity, by easily allowing for constructive criticism and debate, and it acts as an effective platform for individuals and unions to convey messages, problems and solutions to regular people. Nonetheless, effective social networking sites that encourage political discussion can, and will still be viewed as an outlet that places a huge damper on our psychological state, increasing and influencing a depressive state of mind, while driving people further and further away from wanting to discuss politics at all.

    Discussing politics is already enough of a frustrating task, but there are arguments backed with proof that shows discussing politics on social media negatively impacts a person’s psychological state of mind. Aliya Hisam, along with several other researchers, published an article entitled “Is Political Activism on Social Media an initiator of Psychological Stress?”. In this article, Hisam et al conducted a research study aimed at discovering whether or not frequent use of social media had any negative effect on an individual’s psychological state of mind. Their research included information taken from examining 240 people, where the ages ranged between 20-40 years. The researchers also factored in gender, and the type of profession each person had. Analysis of their research yields minimal proof that there is substantial evidence that engaging in political discussion online creates and increases the amount of stress one exhibits in their life. When discussing their results, Hisam et al stated “Out of the total participants, 91 (38.4%) were psychologically stressed out and 146 (61.6%) were not. Psychological stress in males was seen in 58 (24.47%) and 92 (38.82%) were free from stress. While in females only 33(13.92%) were stressed while 54 (22.78%) were not” (pg 1465). Their statistics show that a sizeable percentage, far less than half of the individuals studied, exhibited signs of psychological stress due to discussing politics online. The data presented in this specific study proves that discussing politics online increases psychological stress, but only to a certain amount of people, adding that stress does not appear as the inherit theme for the greater majority. In fact, in almost every category, their data found that people were overwhelmingly stress free discussing politics online.    Psychological stress can lead to many emotions, and depression is argued to be one of them. In Hisam et al’s article, they briefly discuss how the study of a large social networking website yielded results that showed individuals who used the website exhibited depression. Hisam et al added “Social Networking Sites are linked to internet addiction which in turn have been linked to depression, anxiety, frustration, anger, low self-esteem and many other depression symptoms in many studies but few studies contradict these findings” (pg. 1466). Internet usage is argued to be mentally overwhelming and addictive, but its prevalence in society beacons the use of social media for discussing politics and other social issues. Social media does in fact require extensive online usage. It is possible that a lot of people are being negatively affected by discussing politics online, as it temporarily detaches people from the physical realm of society, but the concept that social media allows every person to become an important contributor or benefactor, and the openness of the various platforms that connects people together, despite their flaws, are too valuable to negatively subjugate.

    Despite naysayers or any empirical data that may argue contrary to belief that the pros of discussing politics online outweighs the cons, the fact remains clear that discussing politics online through social media websites is a surefire way to engage with many people with similar viewpoints, and perhaps now the most effective way to promote political agendas. There are far too many ways for people to connect and share their viewpoints on social media websites. One can upload a video to Youtube, eliciting a plethora of debate, or share a picture on Facebook aimed at gathering the consensus of friends and colleagues. People “use Facebook, Twitter and other like sites to communicate, collaborate, coordinate and let their voices be heard loudly regarding their concerns. . . People demonstrate against their government by planning and coordinating through twitter, Facebook, etc” (Hisam et al pg. 1466). Social networking websites have become the most effective way to spread a message, and the number of communities created just for politics grows every day. Discussing politics online by way of social media helps people who want to take further action against their government, and it give aid to people who wish to promote and protest for the betterment of those in their work communities and society.