I wrote this as an initial attempt to think through how one should approach life on social media in an age of political polarization.
So how should you react to the triumph Trump?
One of the major dilemmas to consider is what to do with and on social media in response. Let’s begin by considering the criticisms:
- Twitter is, in many ways, a cesspool, and it has been for a long time. Harassment is potentially present at any time. You may not be facing it right now, but it could come at you at any time. If you don’t see any harassment now then you can be certain that someone else, someone who may be different from you, a woman, a homosexual, an African-American, an Asian, is being harassed while you are being passed by.
- Facebook is a filter bubble. You know nothing about how your newsfeed works because the people at Facebook don’t want to tell you, because your ignorance is how they make money. The news that you see feeds your darkest impulses, it feeds your sense of self-righteousness, your sense of self, your sense of the entire world.
Let’s stipulate a few more items.
- The world you see in any form of media is extremely limited and always quite different than the world you actually experience. Today the news may be filled with stories about Trump, yesterday the news was filled with stories about the campaign. Before that there were stories about vaccines, about evolution, about global warming. Before that there were stories about crime, busing, and hippies. There has always been and will always be something to be angry about because someone, somewhere is doing something you disagree with.
- Media, of any kind, enhances our worst impulses. Television was never very good at rational argument. The news is a form of entertainment, filled with music, interrupted by commercials. The argument was made 30 years ago by Neil Postman. Nothing we have experienced since contradicts his indictment.
- At the same time media can be a salve and a balm. We can find connections to people who will become our friends, strangers who prove to be much like ourselves. This was the great promise of the internet; that we would be able to connect to the world and they could connect to us. That we could see so much further than the screens in front of us.
The recent election forces us to call into question, once again, the assumption on which we have been living and interacting with the world. We must rethink our choices, interact with the world in a new way.
Here are a few ways you could react.
- Draw your friends, both online and off, even closer. Build up your homes and families to protect yourself from the coming darkness.
- Withdraw from the hurly burly of the online world in frustration. Leave social media completely and try to find another place to share.
- Create separate communities of people who share your point of view and interests.
- Turn into the wind, engage with everyone on social media, even more than you did before.
The list is not exhaustive, nor proscriptive. In fact it makes sense to consider all of these options seriously. There are reasons why each response makes sense. Nor are the reactions exclusive. You could withdraw today and return tomorrow, build a separate community this month and return to the public another month.
I want to conclude with my own personal reaction. A reaction which is tentative, but at this moment important for me. I would like for you to think about this reaction and join me if you feel like it may work for you. Remember that it doesn’t have to be permanent.
I’m going to put myself further out into the public world - further into the maelstrom. This means revatializing my own website because I want to have a presence on the internet that I control outside the walled gardens of social media. If you would like help doing the same let me know.
I’m also trying to be more engaged on Twitter. I said above that Twitter is a cesspool. It is. Full of anger and harassment, bigots and misogynists. But it is part of the public square in the 21st century. We cannot avoid it. The election has shown us that hatred is real, it is everywhere. Even if we reach out to the working class or follow some other political recommendation, we will still need to live with each other, and that means living with people we don’t like, people who strenuously disagree with us.
As the archaic torso said to us: “You must change your life“