How to (Not) Use Social Media During Election Season

Justin Lehmann
September 26, 2016

“Don’t talk politics at the dinner table.”

That’s a rule I learned from my dad at a young age. Yet every time I saw adults getting together, that’s all they talked about. Didn’t they know the rules? Why could they get away with it while I had to remain silent?

Since then I’ve been captivated by politics. And as my friends can tell you, I talk about little else. Yet those discussions I witnessed around the dinner table bear little resemblance to the political firestorm we find ourselves in today.

Now that we’re constantly connected to each other via social media, it seems our political opinion is the only thing we want to talk about. Each post seems more important than the last, as if the world will end if we don’t convince our political differs to change course in 140 characters or less.

Now, there are a lot of reasons for this change – changing age demographics, 24-hour news cycle, dark money in politics – honestly too many to get into here. But we can’t blame social media for our changing political climate.

It’s a platform just like the newspaper, but now the writers far outnumber the editors. And these writers are biased as hell. Not in any menacing or maniacal way: they’re just Americans expressing their opinions.

But unlike a newspaper, you’re not going to get (ideally) equal coverage for both sides of the story. More and more, these networks are controlled by algorithms to feed you news and updates you’re more likely to enjoy, fave, or like. This is great for their ad networks but awful for informing the public.

Don’t know what I mean? Check out this chilling experiment the Washington Post is running called Red Feed, Blue Feed. They created a “very conservative” and “very liberal” Facebook account and placed them side-by-side. The contrast is shocking.

Experts already worry that these algorithms have created “echo chambers” where we only see stories from like-minded friends and news sources, furthering our political divide. And most days I agree with them. Now it seems like those echo chambers are getting louder.

On the rare occasions when you do post an “unbiased” story on Facebook, the vitriolic comments from friends and family alike are enough to make you throw your phone into a burning dumpster fire.

However, at least the comments on Facebook are coming from people you know. Politics on Twitter is a completely new beast. I once tweeted at a conservative talk radio personality (I won’t bother you with who or what), but my mentions exploded for two days filled with complete strangers telling me to get out of the country, kill myself, and calling me every awful name under the sun.

Is this what our dinner table conversation has turned into?

Social media is by far the worst place for political discussions to take place. Yet, it’s the one place where they happen the most.

Is there any way to find a middle ground amid the yelling and screaming?

It’s not going to happen overnight. And creating a new Facebook or Twitter isn’t going to solve it either. We have to work with what we’ve got.

So what can you do to help?

Here’s what I’m getting at: Politics is personal. We all hold beliefs because of our personal experiences. So we’re not going to change them because a meme or headline spoke to us just the right way.

Yet despite how far the gap seems between right and left, I think we’re a lot closer than we all realize. There are only a few more hurdles left to tackle. And I have a lot of faith that the digital generation right behind mine still has a few tricks up their sleeve.

Or, at least, that’s what I tell myself to fall asleep at night.

With November right around the corner, I’m sure the political vitriol will get worse. So remember: No politics at the dinner table.