Image: Gage Skidmore 2013
Image: Gage Skidmore 2013

As a British writer I’m watching with uneasy fascination at the onslaught of political posts on my social media networks. I’m encouraged to “get aboard the #TrumpTrain” seek #SolutionsForAmerica” and #FeelTheBern” but to be honest I’m just not feeling it.

It’s undeniable that to a politician, social media is gold dust and we wonder… whatever did they do before we took to the online networks. I’m guessing they plugged the main television networks and drove around the countryside wearing colourful rosettes and sporting catchy campaign slogans. Over 16% of registered voters now follow candidates on social media as opposed to 6% at the last election. Factor in, that 72% of adult Americans have a Facebook account and we can understand the vast increase in political commentators.

Politicians love social media because it gives them a voice, allows them to raise campaign funds, gage public opinions and by 2019 it will allow them to gain exposure to 2.72 billion users.

Certainly things have progressed but do politics and social media really mix?

#1 It brings out the worst people

That’s right, I said it. Political discussions bring out the worst people in our society, the ones I don’t wish to meet and certainly don’t wish to see on my newsfeeds. In recent days I have been drawn to political debates closer to home as London Mayor Sadiq Khan was elected (great news) but I have been horrified at the number of racist comments even amongst those in my own “friend list”. That sweet old granny who enjoys flower arranging and rescues kittens is apparently a white supremacist and the guy you so admired for his professional community work is anti diversity.

Certainly such cretins are in the minority and you’re right, I could just ignore it. Unfortunately though, Facebook’s algorithm is geared up for me to see what my friends are writing even if I don’t want to. I have to resort to removing people from my networks or hiding their posts, either because of their hateful ideology or because of their persistent political posts. Friendships are lost, battles are fought and tempers are fraying … all because of politics.

#2 Some hateful pages have sprung up

In the UK there are a number of unsavoury Facebook pages purporting to be “pro British” or “politically aligned” when in actual fact they carry an unpleasant racist agenda.

Pages like Britain First in the UK and the Nationalist American Workers Party in the US often reel in relatively pleasant people by promoting pro British or Pro American ideals. These however, frequently spill over into a putrid posts inciting racial hatred and even violence. It can be somewhat upsetting as an onlooker to continually report these pages only to find that they are still active; So why are they not removed?

Although Facebook’s policy states that users can’t “post hate speech” many hate groups find ways to skirt the restrictions. If a slur is not in the page’s official title for example, the group can avoid being flagged as inappropriate. Similarly a page may simply facilitate an unpleasant debate by asking a provocative question and leaving its followers to do the nasty work.

Twitter has less restrictive posting regulations and pretty much covers itself by asking new users to agree that they may be exposed to content that “might be offensive, harmful, inaccurate or otherwise inappropriate”. So, day in and day out I find myself blocking these dreadful pages, groups and users on my networks.

Remember the days when Facebook pages were all about cats and people making cupcakes? I really do miss those days!

#3 It’s the same pld PR spin

Millennials know when they’re being marketed to and let’s be honest… it’s the same old political spin only this time via social media. We want to see the “real” politicians and you would think that with their PR teams behind them, they could muster up something that at least resembles a genuine message. That said, in some cases a PR team is required because our politicians just can’t be trusted to manage a social media account by themselves.

Allowing a politician to send out unfiltered tweets has landed many a candidate in hot water although, some seem to relish it as the infamous Trump tweets seem to indicate. So we have the choice between unfiltered nonsense or PR gloss… take your pick.

Social media is a mighty tool for raising awareness, communicating with our peers and keeping up with the latest trends but are politics and social media really a good match?

 

By Charli Day, writer and content manager