To You, My Generation: Get off Social Media Politics

Inflamed by months of false voter fraud narratives, a group of insurgents stormed the Capitol, smearing feces both literally and metaphorically over the heart of our nation’s ideals. As President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris inherit the momentous task of restoring a shattered nation, I call upon you to do your part as well. Politics — truly engaging and empathizing with one another, regardless of political affiliation — is hard; it is daunting, uncomfortable, and maddening. By their insidious algorithms, social media has locked us into echo chambers and reinforced divisions between us. In order to move forward and heal on both a personal and national level, we must free ourselves from the screens and see one another eye-to-eye.

This year, the school asked us to watch Netflix’s The Social Dilemma. For those of you who do not remember the documentary’s message, I will reiterate it: social media algorithms are designed to promote user comfort and will therefore flood users with “agreeable” content. As a result, these systems create an ever-radicalizing loop, so users descend further into the rabbit hole of whatever cause interests them. The feedback loop created by these systems promulgate the insidious QAnon, the freakish conspiracy claiming that Democratic officials are involved in a global child sex-trafficking ring, in addition to other dangerous theories that were espoused at the riot on January 6. 

You might also recall QAnon from the 2016 “Pizzagate” scandal, when a believer raided a local pizza parlor where Hillary Clinton was supposedly conducting satanic rituals. Four years ago, we dismissed “Pizzagate” as the actions of a deranged individual. We paid the price a few weeks ago, as hundreds of supporters stormed the Capitol building. We cannot look away anymore. In particular, we cannot look away from our complicity in these systems that have nurtured fantastical conspiracies such as QAnon. Be wary of these systems and realize how they limit your interactions with those who hold viewpoints that differ from your own. Hold these apps accountable. You, as a user, hold the unique power to do so. Consciously try to fight against these systems and even escape from your respective echo chambers by removing yourself entirely.

I realize that asking you to quit social media entirely is unreasonable. As such, I want you to be cautious when engaging in online debates: social media algorithms pander to quickfire, incendiary comments that embarrass your opponent. Don’t make nasty comments or promote ad hominem attacks for the sake of “dunking” on others and gaining likes. Recently, I saw a @twinesandvines Instagram post that made me cringe. It was an argument between left-leaning Hotchkiss students and a right-leaning user from the Salisbury School filled with biting sarcasm and belittling comments. 

Trying to “roast” and humiliate opposing parties in these discussions is both useless and counterproductive. Shame and embarrassment leads to resentment. Nine years ago, at a White House Correspondents Dinner, Barack Obama lightly teased Donald Trump for his role in peddling the Birther Movement conspiracy. He was humiliated; Donald Trump, stony-faced and reddening, remained silent as the crowd laughed around him. Rather than change his outlandish opinions, the ridicule just further entrenched them. Trump continued to promote the conspiracy theory and has since pandered to similar ideas throughout his Presidency; on January 6, the world saw the ramifications of his actions.  

I understand that interacting with political opponents can be infuriating, especially when they seem to disregard the lives of your friends, family, and even your own. Yet, as difficult as it is, this is part of the democratic process, and it is your obligation as a citizen and future change agent of this country to embrace it. One day, you will inherit the mantle of this nation, and if we want to avoid the partisan gridlock that has marred our generation’s current politics, we must begin the road to healing now.