In 1960, the first televised debate between JFK and Nixon marked a significant shift in the way we choose our leaders. In 2012, Obama and Romney exchanged hashtags in the twitter debate, waiting for a zinger they could highlight or a fact-check they could deploy on their opponent.
In 1933, FDR used the radio to address Americans in a series of fireside chats, using the medium to justify his actions for getting the country out of the Great Depression. In 2012, Obama signed onto Reddit.com to allow users to ask him questions about his presidency and the actions he’s taken to get out of our Great Recession.
In every successive presidency, mass media and technological innovations, culminating in present day social media, has made for radical political transparency and discussion. My fear doesn’t lie in our enhanced ability to communicate but in the quality of those interactions. Social media gives us the enormous opportunity to communicate virally while running the risk of creating an online mob-mentality consciousness.
Hashtags atomize complex discussions into easily packaged terms; #Bigbird and #Binders have sparked national debate around public broadcasting and women’s rights. However, these hashtags that yield the discussion also run the risk of perpetuating the great partisan divide already present in our country. Because the very point of social media is to harbor relationships with like-minded people, liberals in New York will cement their leftist views by connecting to Liberals in San Francisco before they reach across the aisle. As a result, online partisan messages, from both politicians and voters, have gotten more extreme in rhetoric and has had a polarizing effect within social networks. The mass of digital noise from the already engaged political class prevents potential voters and on-the-fence users from entering that discussion.
In response to the marriage of social media and politics, we have the
two-handed responsibility to think critically when we create or receive these partisan messages. We can’t let tyranny of the trending become the norm for public opinion, but instead transcend the digital noise to determine the issues for ourselves.