Facebook: Where Reasoned Political Thought Goes to Die

by Ken Mueller on October 23, 2012 · 20 comments

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Romney Obama Debate Main 300x168 Facebook: Where Reasoned Political Thought Goes to DieBased on anecdotal evidence I’ve had a hunch about Facebook and political posts, so I decided to put my hunch to the test.

As I’ve watched my newsfeed, I’ve noticed a lot of negativity in most of the political posts I see, especially from people who bemoan the negative tone of the current presidential campaign. But I wanted to make sure I wasn’t just seeing things selectively. So I watched my newsfeed all day yesterday, and even went back to cover a full 24-hour period.

Here’s what I discovered:

Negativity is the norm

Of the 73 posts that I saw (focusing solely on the presidential race), 70 of them were negative. That’s a whopping 96%. In other words, they were about tearing the “other” candidate down and trying to make him look bad, rather than promoting the ideas and platform of their own chosen candidate. It’s not that you want me to vote for your candidate. You just want to show me that the other candidate is horrible. What’s wrong with this picture? Is there not enough good stuff about your candidate out there?

Pro tip: It’s always more fun to tear down than it is to build up.

A vocal minority

I pretty much knew this was the case, but my very unscientific content analysis revealed that the large majority of my friends on Facebook aren’t posting anything about politics. But there are a few folks who have apparently been appointed by…someone…as the voices of reason on Facebook. They like to share early and share often. I’m not sure if they are merely sharing everything from their own newsfeed that they see that bashes the opposing candidate, or if they are spending their time actively seeking them out, but I, for one, am glad they are there. It helps to have someone do the homework for the rest of us, and set us straight. For this, I am thankful.

Pro tip: Make sure you are THAT guy. If you’re not THAT guy, someone else will be THAT guy.

You’re stupid and I’m not

The way these posts are postured, they pretty much shut down discussion and conversation. They are written in such a way that they preach to the choir, and if you’re of a differing viewpoint, your opinions are discounted right up front. In fact, I saw several posts that referred to me as an idiot, a moron, and other more insulting and unsavory names. Well, not me directly by name. But you get the point. And make sure you use some of the phrases I saw: libtard, republitard, commie, socialist, nazi.

Pro tip: It’s important to question the intelligence of your Facebook friends on a regular basis. Not only does it encourage reasoned debate, but it’s a great way to counteract all those unicorns, puppies, kittens, and cute baby pictures we regularly see on Facebook.

I’m clever and you’re not

Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and other funny late night satirists better watch their backs; my Facebook friends are out to get your job. What they are posting is funny. A laugh riot. How do I know this? Because they tell me it’s funny, and then they use the comments below their posts to pat each other on the back for how clever they are. Thank you Facebook! Now I no longer have to search online for reruns of Beavis & Butthead.

Pro tip: Huhhh huhh huh.

When in doubt, go fringe

We are apparently not interested in reason and balance. We look for those things that support our preconceived notions about politics, and therefore we don’t go mainstream. A high percentage of the links went to very narrow special interest websites that don’t even hide their political bent or agenda. When someone from the opposing party does the same thing, we’ll call them out on it, for using a “biased” source. But our sources are never biased. Never ever ever ever. (with apologies to Taylor Swift).

Pro tip: The best and most factual “news” comes from sites with horrible fonts, horrible design, and pop-up ads. They also will send you a cool window cling for your car for a low annual membership of just $49.99.

Don’t let facts get in the way!

I took all of the posts I saw that made specific claims about political candidates, and ran them through the filter of fact checking sites like Factcheck.org and Politifact. Some may say these sites are biased, but I’ve found them rather even handed. Not surprisingly, more than 80% of the claims being made  by folks in my newsfeed failed to pass simple fact-checking. In fact (pun intended), many of them ended up being declared as out and out lies. Because, you know, it’s not about facts. It’s about getting our man elected. At all costs.

Pro tip: By any means necessary…

Substance? What substance?

Facts, schmacts. As grown adults it’s our duty to judge the opposing candidate on important things. We mock them by making fun of their name, how they look, how they dress, how they speak. Nothing shows creativity more than morphing the opposing candidates name into something less than flattering. Or posting that picture of the candidate caught in an unflattering or silly looking pose. Judging someone based on how they looked in that one microsecond of time where they got caught on film is important, because, well, that’s never happened to us.

Now don’t get me wrong. I understand. The system is broken and there are times I can do my fair share of complaining. My hands aren’t clean. But if we really want to fix things, and we really want our candidates to run a positive campaign, we should do the same. Or maybe we don’t mind when our candidate goes negative. Maybe we’re only bothered when the other candidate goes negative.

Pro tip: When your candidate changes his mind, it’s called “evolving”. The other candidate is the one who “flip-flops”.

Much of this campaign is being played out online via social channels by both the candidates and their supporters. My little content analysis of the newsfeed on Facebook was done prior to last night’s debate, because I knew I’d never be able to keep up, but if this is what I found throughout the day, you can only imagine how bad it would be during the debate.

But must we really be so negative? All the time?

There’s nothing new about negativity. It’s as old as time, and can be found in pretty much every presidential campaign in our nation’s history. And negativity also isn’t new among the populace. What is new is this platform we have with social media. The same platforms that give us unprecedented access to businesses large and small, also gives us the chance to say what’s on our mind. All the time.

If all we’re really doing is giving voice to what’s on our mind, I think that’s a shame. That means that we have far more negative thoughts than positive thoughts. And I’m not just talking negative. I’m talking angry, bitter, nasty thoughts. Hateful thoughts.

Negativity breeds negativity. But if that’s the case, doesn’t it follow that positivity would breed positivity?

Over the next two weeks, let’s try something. Let’s take what my friend Geoff Livingston calls “the harder path”. Let’s try to be positive. Rather than telling me why my candidate is going to bankrupt our country both morally and financially, why not try to explain to me why I should vote for your candidate? Show me the positives of your candidate, not the negatives of mine. If all you can do is go negative, how is that going to convince me to vote for your candidate? I’m not sure I want any part of that administration.

Or, you could just avoid politics altogether. Just don’t post pictures of kittens or unicorns. Pictures of food are much more likely to win me over.

How are you dealing with the negativity on Facebook this political season? Are you part of the problem or part of the answer?

 Facebook: Where Reasoned Political Thought Goes to Die
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17 comments
SahmAtaineKing
SahmAtaineKing

I stopped going to pages, talking to friends, then deleted my personal account.  I already disliked Facebook, but the unsound reasoning of most just made the urge to leave stronger.  I learned in some Psychology class that presenting evidence in lieu of erroneous views tends to reinforce those views and negates any attempt at giving correct information. People prefer hate, though, and are oft times unwilling to admit they are wrong.  I suspect it's because the human is comfortable in the cozy confines of its delusion, and when those confines are challenged, all measures must be taken to nullify the threat.  

Awesome, and revealing, study.

matthewralph
matthewralph

Thanks for the good word, Ken. I've been trying my best this election cycle to not engage in the negativity and forgive those who are. I look forward to privately voting for the candidates of my choice on Election Day and for my Facebook newsfeed to become enjoyable to read again. After the the-sky-is-falling posts subside, of course and until another Chick-Fil-A/Planned Parenthood-type "outrage" gives everyone reason to  regurgitate their favorite factually-challenged talking points and arguments again. 

3HatsComm
3HatsComm

Tangent but not really. Filters. This is what social needs more than ever; controls, power to the people. 

As much as I like your idea of keeping it positive, not sure it'd work. I've done my best not to like or comment on anything political b/c I'm a polite Southern woman who knows better than to discuss such unseemly subjects in polite company. :-) But I've read more than a few people who've quit social almost all together - and lost some friends, connections - b/c of all the politics. 

I know it won't bring us closer together or more reasoned discourse but my solution would be to have a 'mute this subject' option. I know you can do this some on Twitter via TD (does HS let you?) but FB needs it too. Let me filter so I can see your kids and unicorns and recipes, just not any post w/ X Y keywords. Or maybe if you're a cat person, you can block any post about puppies? Think of the possibilities - you'd never have to see a post about Justin Beiber or Snooki ever again. FWIW.

JonSindall
JonSindall

If you think Facebook is bad for political discussion, you should see the political article comment boards on Yahoo!, which follow most of what you described but without the posting of links and pictures, and a lot more anonymity. I'm just glad that the debates are now over because that's a huge step towards the campaigns being over.

JackDurish
JackDurish

Okay, let's think about this. I find a political comment on Twitter, Facebook, in a blog, wherever. It seems rational. Probably because it agrees with my thinking. It seems irrational. Probably because it reflects thinking that does not agree with mine. Will I comment? Why should I if I agree with it. Preaching to the choir and all that. It's stupid? I must point out the stupidity. Why? I can't allow this to stand and possibly sway someone who happens by, someone who has been ignoring the issues and doesn't know better. Or, maybe, just maybe, I might "educate" the rube who wrote it. I suspect that this train of thought results in a lot of seeming negativity in political discourse.

geoffliving
geoffliving

Yes. I don't think I can add anything else to this other than that. Well said.

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@higginbomb haha, you never know! I didn't unsub from anyone, but came close...

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@3HatsComm Definitely. There are a variety of ways you can filter on Facebook, for sure. But I think beyond that, we are still in the learning curve stage for the passive filtering that we do in our head in re: social media. We already do it in the offline world: without even thinking about it we filter out certain noises, tv and radio ads, etc. For many of us we are still learning how to filter via FB. I do it a lot, but I know some don't yet. 

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@JonSindall Yeah, that's the one nice thing about Facebook: I know who is saying things. I hate the anonymity thing on some platforms.

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@JackDurish I agree, somewhat, Jack. Believe me, there are plenty of times I'm tempted to respond, but I don't because no matter how reasoned and positive I try to be, someone is bound to start name calling and drag the discussion down. 

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@Shonali I do that for the most part, but when it floods your feed it's hard to ignore at times. Or when people turn my own non-political posts into political ones with their comments.

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