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  • Charlotte Hampton

Concerning the Divisiveness of Social Media and the Election

Social media, our generation’s choice news platform, has begun to mirror, and, in turn, mold the discussions around politics and the presidential election. Recent studies show that 61% of Gen Z uses social media as their main news source, and so, teenagers find themselves focusing on what the reality of using social media is, rather than the actual news.¹ Teenagers begin to lose sight of real politics: instead of discussing the ongoing conflicts between Armenia and Azerbaijan, they are instead talking about the ins and outs of “cancel culture.” We praise our peers as politically active when they poorly explain a point they found on Instagram about why ‘cancel culture’ is bad. This focus on social media as opposed to reliable media sources means that our political discussions develop the same bad habits that we see on Instagram.

The absolutism of our generation’s discourse is reflected in and aggravated by the way we deal with social media. At best, it means that we won’t be able to get anything done when we inherit the government, and at worst, it will result in the downfall of democracy — President Trump is showing an increasing disrespect for the American governmental system, especially as he refuses to concede the election. Social media begets dogma and absolutism, which begets divisions that could destroy our systems.

Spreading news on a social media platform breeds absolutism because of the nature of the interface. There is limited space on posts, and people opt for the likes and shares that flashy headlines will provide. Thus, they tell a one sided story that uses biased language and cites no sources. Our reactions to posts that we disagree with are also quixotic: a rude dismissal of the post or a thumbs down emoji is more likely than citing a source or a statistic. Even if a user does cite a fact in their response, there is no reason for another user to believe them — this is what comes with the anonymity of social media. We are all simply adding to the noise, once again, focusing on the politics of Instagram rather than the politics of the real world.

This leads to divisiveness. When everyone’s political consciousness is dominated by social media, they lose sight of the nuance of their arguments, and refuse to concede any countering points. We see this take effect on a larger scale, as news organizations become increasingly biased and the conversation on a national scale is debating a fact as simple as who won the election.² November 7th, the day President-elect Joe Biden won the election, Trump supporters gathered in Washington, DC, claiming that it had been stolen. As night fell, counter protestors marched, demanding that Republicans accept the results of the election. The confrontation was bloody, one protestor stabbed in the back and sent to the hospital, and hundreds more were injured.³

The extreme division that our generation is exposed to has changed the way American politics are discussed. It is essential for teenagers to be paying attention to this divisiveness and absolutism, because they are characteristic of our discussions and have greater effects. These patterns will only worsen if we don’t recognize and try to end them.

  1. Gen Z news consumption sources in the U.S. 2020.

  2. American journalism is suffering from ‘truth decay’ — the media have become more biased over the last 30 years, RAND study says

  3. After thousands of Trump supporters rally in D.C., violence erupts when night falls

Teens for Press Freedom, my organization, is seeking to open up these conversations, and begin to see the role we play in democracy and helping preserve a free and unbiased press. For more information on who we are, visit: Teens for Press Freedom. For more on what being a member of Teens for Press Freedom means, visit: What it Means to be a Member of TPF. To apply to become a member, visit: TPF Membership Application.

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