Politics & Social Media Trends

Maeve Downs, Journalist

While the effects of social media on society have been tapped into, there is not a huge emphasis on how social media is influencing politics and activism. Especially within the last few politically tumultuous years, there has been an increase of individuals and organizations who have utilized social media in order to convey various messages. According to Pew Research Center,  “social media is now among the most common pathways where people – particularly young adults – get their political news.” A whopping 48% of people aged 18-29 gain the majority of their knowledge on politics from social media, which in the Pew Research Centers studies has been shown to actually decrease “High Political Knowledge”. Those who rely on social media for news were 57% likely to have “Low Political Knowledge” based on a set of questions pertaining to current events. 

I do not want to discredit any movement or person who has used social media for activism. While this is essential, I hope my passionate peers in this generation continue to take the extra step in their commitment to social justice.  Social media has been successful at spreading awareness but it’s important to question one’s motives behind “sharing” and the degree of credibility of the posts. 

 I often wonder how much research one conducts beyond the world of social media–of opening the Instagram app and browsing headlines. With the internet being so broad, people have access to grand platforms with few limitations. An example of a threatening platform that’s been given spotlight is “Q-Anon”; a right-wing discredited conspiracy theory whose followers believe that democratic figures are made up of “Satan-worshippers and pedophiles”(Forrest). It was this group who was present at the Capitol Riots, adhering to Trump’s belief that the election was rigged. This unsubstantiated take on the election results became wide-spread amongst Trump supporters, highlighting the dangers of dispersion of information through social media. 

Another trend that has sparked controversy through a wildfire spread of information is “Cancel Culture.” The action of “Cancelling” someone or something on the internet doesn’t directly correlate to political beliefs but attempts to create accountability.  “Cancel Culture” is contagious on different levels: A student at a school may be outed on social media for their behavior, on a local scale, while various public figures have had their pasts reopened for examination. The general idea of taking down anything that’s seen as evil, homophobic, racist, or generally harmful, is a great one. According to NPR, “cancel culture” is used to “refer to a cultural boycott”. It just means, ‘I’m not going to put my attention or money or support behind this person or organization because they’ve done something that I don’t agree with.’ Those who take part in “Cancel Culture” may see their actions as a progressive way of eradicating hate but this process has unhealthy implications.

Jonathan Haidt is a Social Psychologist who is currently professing at NYU in their ethical studies department. Haidt, identifying as a Liberal, holds a strong opinion on how “Cancel Culture” has turned into a twisted game of gaining “prestige”. He describes some of the younger generation’s motives regarding cancel culture as a means to “manage” one’s reputation. Furthermore, when someone is “called out,” publicly, Haidt states: “If you get prestige through calling someone out.. If you can catch them, you get the points, which are at the cost of others, which makes you insufferable.” Within the walls of major universities, professors recently have had to adapt their teaching to serve “the most sensitive student”. Haidt explains that he constantly gets emails from other professors who have been reported for what would be described as a microaggression.  One email he received discussed an incident in which a professor was called out in front of the class by an upset student after saying, “I’m going to shoot myself”. The issue is not that the student was offended by the remark–the issue is that the student could not express her concerns with the professor using productive conversation. 

As Haidt so gracefully puts it, “The truth-seeking game is a special one and a weird one and we’re not very good at it as individuals”. Our generation is vibrant and electric, when we make everything black and white, good versus evil, we lose our ability to critically think.