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The problem with Facebook politics

| Thursday, March 30, 2017

It is time to give up Facebook politics.

Some might be shocked to hear this coming from someone who spends nearly all of their academic and extracurricular time on politics, but I rarely engage in political conversation on Facebook and never start it for reasons that should be universally held.

Many people engage in Facebook politics because they feel it is the only way their voice can be heard, but it does more harm than good.  It is unproductive, often negative, and tends to misdirect or waste political energy. Instead of creating crucial dialogue and engaging people in the issues of our day, it makes politics more divisive and even pushes people away from engaging in politics altogether.

In many ways, Facebook politics is an odd concept. Social norms discourage one simply blurting out controversial political opinions at a party. That would be quite rude. Instead, one normally limits political conversation to appropriate times and places and among people with whom you have a secure foundation of mutual respect. In a sense, the sharing platform that Facebook creates is much like a party, in that most of the people a user is connected with are mere acquaintances. Perhaps this would be different if the platform was made for political speech and consequently could suggest community goals for civil discourse, in the way bridgeND is able to, but it is not and does not. Facebook is made for keeping in touch with friends and bragging about your study abroad experience, but it is unclear that it is an appropriate or useful platform for political discussion.

As a result, it is difficult for Facebook politics to be productive. First, it does not foster quality conversation. Most good conversation happens in person, when opponents are forced to recognize each other as fellow human beings, and when participants must wait for the other person to respond before they speak again, and are able to pick up on tone and body language. The exception may be among close friends, who have built up trust and mutual respect. Unfortunately, political posts on Facebook tend to be reductive and uncharitable to the other side, and the responses they evoke frequently mirror those same negative tendencies.

Furthermore, engaging in politics on Facebook can negatively impact the way you and your “friends” process political information. A study in June of 2014 found that Facebook tends to restrict political interactions to those in agreement with the user and encourage users to filter out information that went against their preconceived notions in favor of material that reinforced them. Nothing could be more detrimental to creating a less polarized political climate.

There is also a concern that Facebook politics encourages “slacktivism,” the act of using social media to passively engage in politics in place of active engagement. This temptation to express one’s support for causes through social media posts and arguments may overshadow the more impactful and meaningful ways to engage in politics and create positive change (An article that addressed this concern appeared in our column earlier this year).

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, most people dislike it. There is a difference in making people uncomfortable in such a way that they open their minds to new perspectives and making them uncomfortable in such a way that they do not wish to interact with you, online or offline. Imprudent Facebook politics, for the reasons mentioned above, tend to do the latter. Political rants with no context or charged attacks with no basis of mutual respect create division and alienation, even amongst those with whom one agrees politically.

This is not to say there is no place for politics on Facebook. The site is good for organizing events and communicating with members of political groups. It is a convenient place to get a quick update on daily political news from the sidebar. Even sharing articles you like or indicating candidates you support can be a productive mode of social interaction. However, the dialogue and advocacy necessary for a healthy democracy is not fit for, nor well-served by, Facebook.

And so, I implore you to consider giving up Facebook politics on personal pages for the rest of Lent or, preferably, forever. There are much more meaningful ways that students can engage in dialogue and have an impact on issues that matter to them. And for those times when you just really need to go on a political rant, stop by bridgeND or email us for an impromptu meeting or meal. We will always want to hear your views and help you move them forward to affect change.

Mimi Teixeira is a junior studying political science. She can be reached at mteixeir@nd.edu

BridgeND is a bipartisan student organization that brings students from across the political spectrum together in discussions concerning public policy issues. The viewpoints expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of BridgeND, but are the individual opinions of the author. Contact BridgeND at bridgend@nd.edu or follow them on Twitter at
@bridge_ND

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About BridgeND

BridgeND is a bipartisan student political organization that brings together Democrats, Republicans, and all those in between to discuss public policy issues of national importance. They meet Tuesday nights (starting Sept.8) from 8-9pm in the McNeil room of LaFortune. They can be reached at bridgend@nd.edu or by following them on Twitter @bridge_ND

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