HALL-PALERM: SparkNotes politics

I would be lying if I told you I didn’t use Facebook — I’m not above the occasional self-indulgent Facebook status, because, you know, sometimes I think I have witty things to say. Another thing I like? Trying to stay politically informed, and being around other informed people to keep me on my toes. So since I like Facebook, and I like politics, it would make sense for me to enjoy overtly political statuses, right? Wrong.

That’s not to say that Facebook isn’t a place to say serious things, or share a piece of knowledge. That’s one of social media’s most important purposes, in my mind — I’ve read some fascinating articles because a friend posted the link to it. It is a perfectly valid use of cyberspace to share something you find important.

My bone to pick, however, is with those who believe they are enlightening the Internet world by posting their own SparkNotes versions of political events.

The night of the second presidential debate, I logged on to Facebook to find a status posted by a high school classmate. “Wait stop,” she wrote. “I disagree with Romney’s policies, but I would respect him a lot more if he would at least stick with his values. His parents never taught him if you stand for nothing you’ll [sic] for anything because he changes his policies so quickly.”

Let’s leave aside the questionable phrasing of those sentences — that’s not the fight I’m picking today. Something about the sort of willful naïveté, the stubborn belligerence of that status rankled me. Sure, cheap digs are easy and sometimes fun to make, but the condescendingly smarmy way she casually dismissed a political candidate’s very real arguments — writ large all over the Internet in a self-important fashion — made me think that her status wasn’t just annoying, but also indicative of a worrisome trend.

Statuses like that lead to other statuses, which lead to other statuses, as more and more Facebook users feel entitled to water down the already watery online debate. And, the more people post, the more their bitter emotions replace the opportunity for dialogue.

Take another Facebook status I read, this one from the wake of the election: “This country can no longer be counted on to be exceptional, as its people no longer strive to be such. Mediocrity is what they voted for.”

That’s a pretty strong statement, especially about a president who, for all someone may fundamentally disagree with him, was just elected to represent the entire country, not just the part that voted for him, for the next four years.

But she’s right, in a sense, that we can’t be counted on to be exceptional. And it’s not because we spend too much time voting for mediocrity — it’s because we waste too much time indulging ourselves in pointless Internet rants, rather than making an effort to have constructive debate.

When our preferred outlet for expressing frustration encourages brevity and shock value more than it does the quality of what’s being said, I worry that we end up with a culture of bellicose and sweeping statements — a culture that makes it nearly impossible for our country to heal and move forward after such a divisive election. If people posted statuses that willfully oversimplified candidates’ stances during the elections, it’s no wonder that people seem both incapable and unwilling to see any good once the election is over. And, in a broader sense, that’s what has made working across the aisle so much harder.

If too many people get bogged down in the chaos of virtually indulging their frustrations, it’s not just that we won’t collectively move forward. We’ll get to a point where we don’t even want to try — whether that’s online or in real life.

Social media makes it too easy for people to provide a watered-down version of events, the kind that fits in a tweet or a pithy Facebook status, and call it being informed. That level of “informed” leads to the divided political world in which we find ourselves, a world where the bulk of people know enough to feel justified in being loudly outraged, but not enough to constructively engage with those with whom they disagree. When it’s more fun and easy to be blithely angry than to see the hardship in the nuance of political events, why try?

 

Victoria Hall-Palerm is a sophomore in Berkeley College. Contact her at victoria.hall-palerm@yale.edu .

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