In light of the daily confirmations coming from Facebook, military officials and congressional investigations about the use of social media as a weapon during the presidential election cycle, I have spent a lot of time this past weekend recognizing that we must change the way we all utilize these platforms. For me, this fact has been making its way into my head for a while now, but due to recent events, I believe it’s been a wake-up call for many people. And, I wonder with all this new knowledge, will the way we use social media change in the future.
I remember my emotions the day Donald Trump won the GOP candidacy for President. To put it kindly, they were all over the place. Like so many people, I was in shock. But mostly, surprised – who on earth would vote for such a man and why?
As soon as I started scrolling my social media platforms, my questions were answered. Despite the fact that these various media have been around for more than a decade now, I have never seen Facebook and Twitter “light” up with so much contentious activity as I did that day. And, since then, it hasn’t died down or gone away. Instead it has changed into something so dynamic and bold that our entire country not only has been influenced by it, but it has been literally hijacked over it.
Yes, it has been taken over.
Within the last few weeks, investigators at Facebook have “discovered the Russian ads…after months of trying in vain to trace disinformation efforts to Russia.” The Washington Post reported on September 25 that Facebook has acknowledged that there has been “at least $100,000 in ads purchased through 470 phony Facebook pages and accounts.” Further, this amount was only a small fraction “of the political advertising on the platform during the 2016 campaign.”
Of course, during the campaign and months since President Trump has been in office, speculation of Russian involvement in the 2016 election process have swirled. There have been plenty of bits and pieces showing some sort of a link between the two. But it hasn’t been enough to pin specific people and groups or organizations on such harsh offenses.
And, as this all unfolds, a I can’t help wondering why this is what it had to come down to for all American’s. Even many of the president’s supporters are beginning to stop and ask: “Hey, wait a second. This is not at all what American freedom is about?”
Of course, hindsight is always 20/20. Looking back over the last year, it is clear that the ugliness which shined through on social media platforms wasn’t strong enough for those who tried to stay united as a country to succeed. And, to say it’s been a year of ugliness might be too nice. Either way, it doesn’t matter anymore.
The evolution of social media during the 2016 campaign took us to new levels on these platforms. Instead of family stories and pictures being shared, FB became a stage for people to preach their opinions and bluntly state why everyone else was wrong. Social media did something to our country in a matter of one year that would have taken at least 10 In the old days. It managed to divide us, as a country in a hateful way. In fact, the election brought out so much hatred in people that the Monmouth University Polling Institute stated “What is unusual is a full 70 percent of those surveyed say this election has brought out the worst in people, compared to just 4 percent who said it has brought out the best.”
The largest fallout caused by social media has been to us, the American people. Over the last year, we have let our discourse be manipulated and influenced by outside sources. It has ended lifelong friendships, negatively impacted families, ruined romantic relationships, and yes, even ended marriages. “One in 14 Americans have lost a friend over this presidential campaign,” wrote Holly Scheer in The Federalist. She added, “Social media makes it more difficult to avoid politics with even distant acquaintances, and seeing the political views and stories that people choose to share when feelings are so volatile can make it hard to maintain friendships with the people who fall on different sides of the issues.”
Harsh language or not, I find it interesting to hear these stories of ‘friends’ who have jumped ship because of how social media has evolved. Poof, gone. Unfriended. Blocked. Unfollowed. Deleted. Edited. Hidden. Erased. Out of your life for good. Whatever you call it, the entire country is being manipulated by the platform itself, making manipulation by outside sources like Russia quite easy. The American people have begun to fight among its’ own in a war brought on and escalated by social media.
It makes me wonder if we will learn anything from this past year and be smart enough to recognize that everyone can be influenced and fooled by somebody. That will never change. However, it remains to be seen if we can out-smart these social platforms and keep them out of tainting our political processes. And most importantly, will we let it scar our unity, friendship and love for each other.
I certainly hope not, but we will see.