The Herd

How Social Media Affects Politics

Lucia Davis, Staff Writer

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You wake up this morning with three new CNN updates on your phone saying President Trump has ridiculed Kim Jong Un on nuclear weapons. Your first impulse is to go to Facebook and post a response about this, all while reading your friends posts about the same topic on your feed. Next, you go to Twitter and see that President Trump has tweeted a string of messages against the leader of North Korea. In response, you tweet out your opinion, or retweet headlines you agree with on this recent development. In the end, social media has not only provided a platform for your news consumption, but it has also driven the way you have communicated. In turn, your social media interactions are shaping the message of the news by determining who ingests it and how it’s ingested. So what does all this mean? How has social media affected America’s political scene? But more importantly, how has the flood of social media affected the average person in dealing with politics?

Social media has turned from a platform of friendly communication to one dominated by news, politicians, and exaggerated or fake stories. We’ve all seen this. All actions by politicians are recorded and posted on a news or social media site in seconds. People then respond, conversations start, and in the end, social media is the center of political opinions not only for the general public, but also for members of government as well. In response, people have begun relying on social media for their news. Especially for the youngest age group of voters, 18-29, a third of this group use social media to receive their news (Curry). This can be a positive effect as viewers are able to access multiple sources of news. This way, all aspects and opinions can be read and there is more information available for understanding a story. But the truth is that most people stick to sources that have similar views. For example, your facebook feed may be filled with your friends’ opinions and posts on the same news, but those opinions and posts most likely align with your own views. You and your social media have been put in a bubble, restricting you from the access to unlimited information (Satterfield). In addition, the 24/7 coverage of news brought by social media includes the possibility of false stories and manufactured media (Curry). With so many news headlines constantly circulating in someone’s sphere of social media, it’s hard to tell which ones are only meant to get our attention rather than share factual news. Most people have realized that not everything on facebook or twitter is true, but people still tend to believe what’s in front of their eyes.

Just as the average person shares and communicates via social media, politicians do the same, especially when it comes to opponents. Recently, politicians have tweeted out bashing their fellow colleagues and even the president, using name-calling and petty arguments against opposition. The peak of this bullying between politicians in our country was the 2016 election where President Trump would frequently take to his twitter account with no regard for the effects (Vann). This new trend of virtual bullying was the centerpiece of the election. Every morning, news sites would start their day off saying something like “Donald Trump’s latest tweets bashes so and so..” It’s almost absurd that one of the most developed countries in the world has members of government acting like middle-schoolers who hide behind a screen as they poke at their classmates.

In the last presidential race, President Trump coined the terms, “Crooked Hillary,” and, “Crazy Bernie,” in his tweets, names that are still used today despite his victory. So why does he do this? Politicians that use bullying tactics in their campaigns are more likely to win compared to those who don’t (Moody). Social media allowed for this new campaign tactic, but more importantly, free media coverage (Hinsliff). When Trump first began posting tweets that targeted and bullied people, he became the focus of every news channel, and in response, the center of conversations and social media trends. Donald Trump quickly became the most infamous man in America through bullying and bashing his targets. People who liked him, and people who hated him, were all caught up in his ploy for mass media coverage, which may have won him the election. In fact, Trump said himself he wouldn’t have won if it weren’t for his twitter (Baynes).

Currently, President Trump uses his twitter actively in criticizing anyone with whom he disagrees. Following Meryl Streep’s acceptance speech at the Golden Globes that criticized Trump’s anti-immigration policies, he took to twitter to denounce her as “one of the most overrated actresses in Hollywood” (@realDonaldTrump). Never has America had a President that takes to social media to defend himself from a five minute speech by an actor. Such a powerful, rich, and privileged man believes that he is free to criticize anyone, yet is not able to take criticism himself. This behavior has caused an attitude shift in Americans whether they know it or not. We are now constantly on the offense and defense at the same time, promoting a level of combativeness that has gripped the country. One response to this was seen with the pop up women’s marches during the inauguration of President Trump and the one year anniversary of his presidency. Women throughout the country no longer could stand his defense of sexual assault, bullying, and disregard of equality. The march was a sign of people turning to the offensive side for a change by taking action. Though this is a positive example, hate groups also rose up to speak out about their beliefs, such as the riots in Charlottesville, Virginia by an Alt-Right group in 2017. A larger effect of Trump and his social media account is that we have been given a permit, a free pass in treating one another the way Trump treats his “enemies.” His behavior through social media has given Americans permission to act the same way. For example, Tomi Lahren, who is a frequent commentator on Fox News, copies much of Trump’s behavior. Similarly to Trump and his “nicknames” for people, she has popularized the name “Snowflakes” in referring to liberals who, according to Lahren, get offended by everything (@TomiLahren). Behavior by our leaders has trickled down to Americans and how they treat others with differing views. This was seen when hate crimes increased by 20% in 2016, the same year as Trump’s election (Smith). This fight originated in the battle between what seems to be President Trump and the Republicans versus the rest of the country, and sometimes, even, by the President versus his own Party. This was exemplified when President Trump went after Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the dismissal of FBI Director James Comey, people who were thought to be on Trump’s side. This contrasts to the standard in Political Parties of Republicans supporting Republicans and Democrats supporting their party. In the 2016 election, up to 77 Republicans who served in government from former Secretary of State Colin Powell to Michael Chertoff who was the Secretary of Homeland Security under President George W. Bush, did not vote for President Trump (NBC). A range of Republicans from major influencers to department heads were against Trump, revealing that dislike for President Trump was widespread throughout his party due to his behavior. Consequently, his behavior doesn’t just affect his Party members, but the average citizen as well.

Politicians who saw the attention Trump received in response to his behavior on and off social media, adopted his language. Marco Rubio was a prime example of how politicians copied Trump’s M-O in order to get attention. During a February rally in Virginia in 2016, Rubio went on the offense. He mocked at Trump’s skin tone saying he uses spray tan and made innuendos about his “small hands” (Jaffe). Though Rubio dropped out of the election, his actions of counter bullying were a response to Trump’s pokes at him by stooping to his level. Trump set political communication at an all time low, and, surprisingly, most of his opponents followed. This may have been their tactic in defending themselves from attacks they never thought they would get, or it may have been a way of seeking attention, media, and eventual votes. Trump’s tweets during the election sounded like they came directly from him rather than someone on his campaign. In 2015, Trump tweeted out against Jeb Bush saying, “Jeb Bush gave five different answers in four days on whether or not we should have invaded Iraq.He is so confused.Not presidential material!” (@realDonaldTrump). One can picture Trump saying this himself as you can hear his voice behind it. The direct bash on Bush would never come from a campaign aide. Personalized tweets may have made voters feel they had a greater understanding of Trump as a potential president. Also, throughout the 2016 election, Trump’s opponents took on his tactics of bullying, hoping to gain the response from people that Trump had. The way that politicians and people responded to Trump shows that he created a new standard of political discourse.

There was an exception to this trend of bullying through social media, however; Hillary Clinton’s twitter highly contrasted with Trump’s. This observation is not meant to be biased, as you can read through each person’s twitter and see this clearly. In the 2016 election, Donald Trump engaged in name-calling and different forms of bullying against his opponents. Hillary Clinton retained the status-quo of political discourse on social media by tweeting things that could have been written by any person on her campaign. The two nominees highly contrasted in tone and substance between the old social media and the new: Hillary Clinton with posts that focused on her campaign and were relatively neutral in terms of facing opponents, and Donald Trump who used trash talk and insults in targeting his opponents and the Democratic party. Where Trump may have won due to his use of trash talk, it’s not clear this is serving him well as President.

One common goal of all politicians, despite whether they use trash talk on social media or not, is to get elected. Voting is what politicians work for, so some have embraced all options to reach voters. Using social media allows politicians’ names and faces to be circulating in someone’s social media feed, and possibly in their mind come voting day, which is why so many politicians utilize social media. Politicians’ influence on being memorable depends on how they campaign. As of 2008, these tactics have included more social media. Eight years later, it’s main feature became trash talk and targeting rival nominees. Most of the voting population probably remember themselves or their kids having seminars in middle school to remind them of the dangers and consequences of online bullying. Who would have thought that the leaders in our country may have needed that lesson too. Voting now comes down to which nominee has the most news coverage, most social media interactions, and how they choose to compete. Consequently, bullying on social media is the most popular way of political campaigning. It is important to look into why people respond more to bullying, and how that leads them to communicate with each other, and how they vote. As Americans, it is our duty to be aware of how our political scene is changing and elect leaders without being distracted by social media diversions to prevent further bullying in the country. As the progression of political social media evolves, let us not forget the positive impacts of it, and work to prevent the negative aspects.

To understand every way the collision of social media and politics is affecting our lives and how we can use that information going forward, there are larger themes that can be deconstructed. Obviously, social media has allowed the increase in communication between people and politicians. Any person can use Twitter or Facebook to get in direct contact with their governor, senators, or congressmen. Before social media, the only direct contact may have been through letters or going to see the politician in person. But nowadays, it is fast and easy to send a message and achieve contact with any person in government. This positive impact is one the best features that rose from social media. It has allowed for a closer relationship between the US government and the people (Summers).

A closer relationship and greater communication allows for politicians to convey their ideas and opinions straight to their audience. This way, for example, a governor and his state would be able to constantly stay on the same page about a pressing topic. Large events, such as elections, allow for candidates to connect with potential voters. People who are able to interact and have a closer relationship with a candidate may sway an election (Curry). So when politicians have updated and constant perspectives given to their supporters, they may have a greater chance of winning. This gives social media an immense impact on how people vote or perceive their politicians.

An increase in the communication between people and politicians seems like only a positive affect; however, there’s a down side. Politicians become a center of focus because social media provides for 24/7 coverage. Both news and social media sites have turned a new corner onto constant updates on everything, no matter how small the statement or action. With all eyes constantly on members of government, they may feel a need to please everyone. Each person’s views on the politician they follow can be shared, so a politicians fear of negative feedback by their followers may push a politician to make decisions to please the greater public (Donehue). In government, a politician is in the position to make the hard decisions despite the possibility of the public not agreeing. The United States’ representative democracy is designed to allow a certain group of people to make the hard decisions for the greater good. Our founding fathers created this system to protect the nation from possibly fatal opinions from the masses. Politicians are expected to fill their role of making the best decision possible without bias or alternative motives. Increased communication between politicians and the average person means that the politician in return can see what the people want. But politicians need to prevent themselves from being consumed by a pressure to appease the wants and needs of everyone.

Social media doesn’t just affect communication between politicians and people, it affects how people or politicians interact with others who have the same, or opposing views. Most people have seen the bubble effect of social media where people unknowingly surround themselves with people who have similar views (Satterfield). This trend has had multiple effects on how people perceive news, digest information, and view conflicting opinions. For example, a Democratic person may only follow left leaning news sources and have family and friends who lean left as well. This causes that person’s social media feed to also have a left leaning bias. This is the same for Republicans or any other political party. The truth is that people don’t want to see conflicting views. Political parties and their followers are not getting exposed to other ideas, views, and news reports that may be more factual or accurate. There is a trend of segregation between people of different parties where Republicans, Democrats, Independents, and anyone else are putting themselves into spheres that are drifting farther and farther away from each other (Satterfield). This aspect of political life has caused our country to be divided more than ever. If we are able to recognize this, we may be able to fix it. It is not impossible to have a country of unity that is able to have people of differing opinions without hate, online harassment, and immaturity by some of our greatest leaders of this generation.

The effect of people’s’ political views being separated into detached spheres can be seen through the interactions of those with differing opinions. People have become accustomed to being surrounded by aligning views that they become very defensive when they’re opposed. This part of social media colliding with networks was seen starting with the 2016 election. The news world in the past two years has experienced growing hostilities between Fox News and CNN. Two major news networks whose views contrast heavily as Fox takes the Republican stance and CNN, the Democratic (Chowka). And people are responding the same way. Much like the difficult presidential fight between Trump and Hillary, Democrats and Republicans have become so ignorant to opposing views that there’s almost no civility between the parties. Republicans are called racists and “supporters of hate,” while Democrats are deemed as Libtards, extreme-leftists, and “out to get” the current administration. Political parties rarely align, but the growth of social media and communication between people with the same and opposing views may have lead to a harsher political environment. So what can we take away from this? Expanding one’s political sphere to other opinions may breach the gap, or “pop” the bubble that so many have been locked in. Understanding opposing views may be the key to lessening the hate and dissent for others who posses contrary opinions, and merge the separate spheres people put themselves in.

Apart from news networks and average person fighting on social media, what influences the country the most is how politicians talk to each other. Politicians, with the growth of social media, have resorted more to Facebook or Twitter to slam opponents or the opposite party. Social media is the perfect platform for politicians to send a message with a clear point. President Donald Trump constantly trash talks the Democratic Party blaming them for issues in government. Currently President Trump is trying to repeal DACA, in facing opposition he tweeted, “The Democrats just aren’t calling about DACA. Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer have to get moving fast, or they’ll disappoint you again. We have a great chance to make a deal or, blame the Dems! March 5th is coming up fast” (@realDonaldTrump). Democrat Nancy Pelosi also frequently jabs back at the president, tweeting on February first, “@realDonaldTrump has surrendered his constitutional responsibility as Commander-in-Chief by releasing Nunes’ unredacted, classified memo. His decision undermines our national security and is a bouquet to his friend Putin” (@NancyPelosi). Here, Pelosi is saying the President is not using his powers correctly and refers to Trump’s alleged ties to Russia. Tweets like this are constantly thrown back and forth between politicians, causing social media to be a thread of bullying between members of government, and the two dominant parties in the country (Taylor). It would have been impossible to picture grown men and women in government resort to online bullying to get ahead. This ill-use of social media by our nation’s leaders is disappointing and immature. But nevertheless, it is successful.

Politicians who use trash talk and name calling on social media obtain a larger response from their audience (Boulianne). Also, politicians who use those tactics attract more attention and are talked about more, allowing them votes and elections victories. In the 2008 election even before trash talking had been introduced, President Obama had used social media more than his opponents, giving him more attention and a larger possibility of winning (CampaignOn). People also respond more to negative behavior. More people are going to talk about and look at negative tweets instead of positive tweets (Garlick). The responses politicians have received when they share negative content has given politicians the OK to continue the bullying. If people were to not respond, and send a message that they want civilized political discourse, then maybe the US wouldn’t be dealing with the growing online bullying trend between grown adults.

The response to negative comments by politicians was revealed in the 2016 election. Donald Trump flipped a switch which turned on the trash-talk trend on social media, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to be turned off anytime soon. Starting out with basic bullying, Donald Trump and other Republicans held on to name calling like the liberal “snowflakes” and “Crooked Hillary.” Trump also partook in scapegoating the Democrat party for many problems in government. Although Hillary Clinton never used in cyber-bullying during the election, fellow Democrats engaged in making fun of Donald Trump for a number of physical traits and brought up ties to Russia, his taxes, or other minor details of his life. Donald Trump used negative language and insults more than anyone, making him the most popular candidate. The attention he gained on social media and news networks undoubtedly contributed to his win. Every US citizen needs to see through the cloud of bullying and make their voting decisions based on truth, maturity, and what will serve the US best. If we understand how the 2016 election was won without the average political discourse, then we can work towards electing politicians that have experience, morals, and who are not bullies.

Throughout the various forms of our life that social media has transformed, it is important to see how it has changed our government. Citizens everywhere see their politicians communicating differently, see an increase in their own communication with members in government, and lastly communicate differently with each other. Social media was a platform for trash talk and bullying. Though there are benefits for such a large platform for everyone’s voice, it is abused daily by people and politicians. Political strife has risen between parties and their members, and due to this issue being relatively new, I don’t think anyone really knows how to combat it. So for now, the best we can do is make personal steps, encourage others, and work towards what each person sees as a solution to create a positive social media impact

Mark Zuckerberg, when he created Facebook back in 2006, said, “Facebook was not originally created to be a company. It was built to accomplish a social mission-to make the world more connected and open”(Zuckerberg). Americans need to see through the chaos of news and social media dominating how we act politically. Just because our politicians use petty means against each other doesn’t mean we need to. We have the opportunity to take a step back and see how America’s politics are and how it is being led down a corrupt path. It is the duty of those who use social media and stay updated with the news to start a trend of political correctness. America should be held to a higher standard. The platform of social media must be positive, must encourage rather than defeat, and must be used to connect America rather than tear it apart. So look at your life, look at your social media accounts. Are they biased? How can you change that? If you are a Democrat don’t look at Republicans as the enemy, and vise versa. Politics and social media can never be separated, but the best we can do is make it a place for political progress and discussion-not name calling and fighting.

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How Social Media Affects Politics