The Social Media Electorate

A voting sticker rests on the front page of Twitter’s Election page.

The United States is almost 40 days away from the 2020 Presidential election. Like gasoline on a fire, social media has erupted in politcal content, and it has become an absolute bloody mess.

We are reminded of the James Madison warnings of “factions” from a 2019 Atlantic article: “The Dark Psychology of Social Media Networks.”

“By a faction, I understand a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.”

James Madison, Federalist Papers No. 10 November 23, 1787

In these papers, James Madison argued that the size of the country would be enough to guard the nation from divisive factionalism. I don’t think Madison predicted what would happen when technology made communication and factionalism easier than ever.

Our Country is in Danger

In the 2016 election, social media realized the election game was flipped on his head. A 2016 study indicates that 67% of adults gets news from social media, the most fake news was spread on Facebook, and many people actually believed those stories. Voters then went to the voting booths, and voted based on the information that was created by hyper partisan factions.

In 2020, this is happening again, at an even more staggering rate. Yes, social media companies have begun to label content as manipulated, or question the validity of content, but it’s too late. The damage is already happening and might irreversible.

People no longer view each other as Americans anymore, people are immediately castigated as the party that they support. I would even argue that social media users aren’t even recognizing others as human anymore.

Yesterday:

Also Yesterday:

As news broke Wednesday of Indictments in the Breonna Taylor case in Louisville, KY, social media engaged in faction warfare. One user, a retired NYPD officer and resident of Florida, sent out a tweet calling Kentucky protestors “savages.” Then thousands of people all across the globe tweeted back at that person degrading tweets and responses.

An Endless Cycle

This cycle happens daily. Every Hour. Every Minute.

One person can essentially tweet anything, and factions of people will either subscribe to that mentality, or others will immediately fight it. Here’s the problem. What appears to be a standard Twitter Brawlhala, might not appear as it seems. Many of these tweets are from fake accounts, designed to propagate and foment the deep divisions of America.

The problem becomes exasperated due to Twitter’s Metrification practices, and Twitter’s trending algorithms that are tailor made for Twitter Users. Once users continue to respond and use similar hashtags, these tweets become elevated and more people end up seeing those tweets. It’s like throwing lighter fluid onto a campfire in a dried out forest.

The Election of 2020

This cycle is happening almost every second of the day. If you’re on social media, you’ll see the latest in social outrages. From protests across the country, to the President refusing to say he’ll accept a peaceful transition, to GOP senator’s hypocrisy, it feels like it never ends. I often wonder if the country is so far divided, that we can’t even reason with each other anymore.

In the middle of all of this digital cacophony, is an election of an American President. Microtargeting, fake news, media manipulation are already rampant in the election of 2020. According to the CIA, foreign adversaries are currently meddling in the US election with hundreds of thousands of social media posts.

FBI Director Christopher Wray warns Americans of foreign electoral meddling. 9-24-20

My question is simple. Who is actually determing the next President, social media or voters?

I often feel like what’s happening online, is bleeding into real life. The other day, I was walking around Buttonwood Park in New Bedford, a young man drove a large truck down the road bearing two Trump flags in the back of his cab. A woman walking in the park saw him, and immediately yelled “Hey, F*ck you!” and promptly flipped him off. He just reved his engine even louder, emitting thick black smoke.

I stood there thinking, “Is this it? Is this the pinnacle of humanity?”

I look back at the relationship forged by the late Supreme Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Supreme Justice Antonin Scalia. They were on opposite sides of the political spectrum, but they actually became really close friends that accepted each other, and treated each other like human beings. Despite having a complete different ideology, they were even able to attend an opera together.

I wonder how we can get back to those days. I would love to see a time where we don’t see our democrat or republican labels, but just human beings. I have a few unpopular thoughts.

First let’s remove metrification. The likes, shares, and retweet data shown on each post does nothing by further exaggerates the spread of nefarious posts. The time for the constant public display of popularity needs to end. One of the most retweeted tweets was from a teenager asking for Wendy’s Chicken Nuggets.

Second, let’s remove all fake accounts from social media. It’s 2020. How have we not figured out a way to limit fake bots and trolls from social media?

Third, remove anonymity on the internet, everything posted should be linked to your real identity. Research shows that if anonymous users are unmasked, many of the behaviors we see today dwindle.

Lastly, we need to fight back against the extreme fake news prevalent in our society. We need to rebuild our trust in our media institutions and government equally, and people need to develop a strong foundation of media literacy and digital citizenship skills.

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