Vakil: Social media perpetuates political hatred


Caroline Vakil, Columnist

When I started to brainstorm ideas for my next column this quarter, I gave myself one rule: I would not write about politics. For me, American politics has become inundated with hatred, specifically when it comes to writing about issues and candidates over social media. As the presidential election nears, I have found myself scrolling down my Facebook newsfeed, reading the scathing remarks or the latest political meme.

Within a few minutes, I shut off my phone in disgust.

And of course, I’m breaking my only rule on the first week.

What I take issue with is the lack of tolerance apparent over social media. When we talk about candidates and their stances on issues, we often resort to bitter commentary and ad hominem attacks on their personalities or their “backward” ideologies. Or worse, we take disgusting satisfaction in watching candidates make mistakes, denouncing them online. We cannot even begin to understand who these candidates are because we are so busy pointing out where they did wrong.

In short, the discussions we have over social media about presidential candidates teach us to hate the candidates, but more importantly, one another.

It is hard for me to grapple with the hatred we foster over the Internet. Although I understand social media should be a tool for free speech, which entails voicing criticism, I can’t help but wonder if the conversations are more verbal target practice than thoughtful discussion. It seems clear they are the former and, even when people attempt to have meaningful conversations, either few people engage in them or they easily turn into spats between friends.

The effect of all of this is that we learn to hate not only the candidates but one another, because we cease to strive for common ground. The irony is that one of the things we ask for from our president and government is bipartisanship. How can we ask for this if we cannot even take a moment to have our own sincere conversations?

The solution here is not to stop having these discussions, because we definitely need to have them. However, the way we have these discussions needs to change. I am all for voicing criticism, but it is only effective if you are actually thoughtful in the way you frame your arguments. The last thing people need to see is another attack about a candidate’s personality or choice of lifestyle.

Often, much of our political discourse comes from a lack of communication. It is convenient to shrug off the views of those we do not agree with, but it also continues to perpetuate our political discourse.

We need to create a space where these conversations can happen, preferably away from social media where ideas can easily be miscommunicated through text. Although political conversations in class and among friends can be contentious, they provide the forum necessary to voice our opinions. And they also require us to actually listen to one another when we talk, rather than write our own comments and ignore the posts of anyone we disagree with. Conversations like these cannot be made in a vacuum where we talk around one another or attack one another; they are discussions that can only be fruitful if had person-to-person.

Although some on social media prefer to egg us on and contribute to the shouting match of who is right versus who is wrong, I am not a total cynic. We have the ability to create thoughtful discussions amongst candidates and amongst ourselves, but it also requires us to be tolerant and respectful. We can neither begin to have these discussions if the foundation of a tolerant community is lacking, nor can we take this as an option to continue making memes and angry social media posts because that does not solve our problems either. The first step to creating a more politically tolerant community, however, is by creating the space to have these discussions in the first place.
Caroline Vakil is a Medill sophomore. She can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.