When the 2012 Presidency was announced, I didn’t have to be watching the news to figure out who had won. All I had to do was look at my Facebook. During the election, my Facebook was cluttered with posts supporting one candidate or the other, or just telling people to get out there and vote. I saw friends with pictures of them in rhinestone Obama shirts, people bashing one candidate or the other, people posting pictures of pets in pro- candidate apparel, and even first-time voters posting pictures of their ballots, or of themselves voting, even though this is illegal in 14 states. Facebook and Twitter got people excited for the election. This was the same occurrence in 2008, where people monitored the Twitters of both parties, but with Obama using it in a much more strategic manner. In the Cooler, people were screaming when Barack Obama had been re-elected, it was such a cool environment to watch the election results. At George Washington and American University, students watch results in two separate rooms, The “Red Room” and “The Blue Room”, when the results are announced, students storm outside the White House. People of college age are not considered to have a high voter turn out, so, part of me wonders if the same interest in the election would occur without Social Media hyping people up. We know that teenagers are not likely to desire to be involved in politics, but our generation wants to be fully involved. I saw kids in middle school posting their views on the elections, writing things like “Vote for those who can’t”. Is this just kids trying to be like their friends, or are younger people just starting to become generally more interested?
After thorough “Facebook stalking” of all of the posts, I learned that some people got too excited. I read an article about two sorority sisters who aren’t speaking due to posts on election results, friends have been blocked and defriended on Facebook, and one of my friends hasn’t looked at Twitter after the first debate. She said that there were “racist and degrading” remarks made on both sides. Some of the posts were fake, others were inaccurate, and misguided. I found that the social media magnified the partisanship that we are seeing in Congress. The negative tone and misinformation that gets spread on these websites is concerning. When election results were announced, more than any picture I saw, I saw this one being posted a lot:
Talk about racializing the campaign. Is this just kids having fun with the election? By showing candidates in this kind of a light, does it make them more human? When Obama’s victory was confirmed, his facebook posted this picture, with the caption “Four More Years”:
This post became the most reposted picture. Michelle Obama is almost as popular as Barrack Obama. When she came on stage and kissed the newly re-elected President, there was a collective “Awwww” in the Newcomb Common Room. When Obama gave his acceptance speech, he talked about how he “loved her so much” and how he has “never been so proud of her”. Any surprise that his campaign staff would select that picture to post? They know that people love the Barrack/Michelle marriage, and many of our generation aspire to have something as powerful, dynamic and to be as in love as they are. Hopefully, their marriage is as good as it seems, but their use of social media definitely makes their marriage seem to be perfect. There’s no doubt that their supporters love every second of it.
The good news is that more people are becoming interested in politics. It’s when we become apathetic that our body politics should really be concerned. What really concerns me about the rhetoric on Facebook and Twitter is that it becomes so offensive that it could cause violence. Remember Congresswoman Gabby Giffords in Arizona, she was shot and several people were killed after she had been targeted on Facebook. There were even images of her in the crosshair with a gun aimed at her. Facebook and Twitter allow people to believe that their vote does actually make a difference, and share their beliefs with people. Isn’t this just keeping up with the idea of a democracy? Social media provides an amazing forum for people to have their voices heard, but what happens when what people are saying is inconsiderate of other people and could cause potential harm? Is Freedom of Speech really worth it if people are using it in a derogatory way? We know that there are limits on Freedom of Speech when individuals can be harmed such as libel, slander, obscenity, and you can’t yell fire in a crowded movie theater. The Founding Fathers couldn’t fathom the Internet, Facebook and Twitter. We need to be able to assure that people are using this new tool that we call Social Media in a responsible way to state what we think, and not intentionally hurt other people, physically or emotionally with false and hateful rhetoric.