I don’t mean to say that I find pictures of cats necessarily preferable to politics. But, a couple weeks ago, I definitely added that Chrome extension (Unpolitic.me) that replaces everyone’s political talk with pictures of cats.
Why? I can’t take the constant barrage of rehashed political statements any longer. I can’t take any more of the same old political commentary, all the way from my friends on Facebook to the front page of Reddit. There is a severe lack of original content when it comes to what I see being posted by my compatriots on social media. And after seeing the same old thing 15 or so times about Mitt Romney or Barack Obama, I’m completely apathetic.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t think we should be aware of what’s happening politically. We should all at least be aware of the implications of election season and of what’s happening in government in general. If I want to know what’s going on, though, I’ll watch/read commentaries, news articles and the like — heck, I’ll even watch the debates. But I cannot stand seeing the same witticisms constantly repeated afterwards. It’s gotten to the point where you can pick out what people are going to say. After the third recent presidential debate, for example, blogger Domenico Siravo called out in his real-time coverage, “prepare for posts and tweets about bayonets.” And there they were.
And the memes. The memes are the worst. I could live happily without ever having to see another half-baked Sudden Realization Romney or Upvoting Obama.
It’s not that I don’t want to see other people’s opinions. Obviously, I don’t agree with all of them, but that isn’t the issue in the least. In fact, I’d rather see the opinions of people I disagree with than those of the people I do happen to agree with at this point, just for some change of pace. Across the board, Republican, Democrat, independent, for weeks now, it’s mostly just the same one sentence ideas over and over again. It’s gotten to the point where not enough people are “publishing,” so to speak, original content anymore. Nobody is really adding much to the debate or discussion. It’s the same old recycled one-liners and adamant assertions. And that’s a serious problem.
What does it say about us if our posts and tweets are predictable, if we are replaying the same ideas over and over again? What good is a discussion if we are simply going around in circles with the same old notions? I mean, I cannot even tell you the number of times I heard the word “binders” in the past few weeks.
Now, there is one obvious counterpoint that I should address. If everyone lived in fear of posting unoriginal content, obviously nobody would write anything about politics, about the election, about debates, about anything. I don’t mean to discourage anyone from using social media to talk about politics. But I don’t see enough beyond the easy pickings. I would put up with seeing the word “binders” a million times if I saw additional criticisms beyond the more obvious, if people were to at least share the better relevant pieces that they have either read or seen.
The problem goes well beyond this particular election and beyond politics in general. Last year, I criticized the sudden explosiveness of the KONY 2012 video. There, social media users were simply passing along a video without taking really any time to learn about the issue, to even look at one additional source. I’m not arguing whether Jason Russell and Invisible Children, Inc. were right or wrong. The fact of the matter is that too many people simply reposted, shared and retweeted without bothering to consider anything other than the KONY 2012 video itself.
This same type of problem is repeating itself with social media and the election. We get so caught up in the easy and sensational headlines. We are so eager to post witty or adamant one-liners that it has become tiresome. A recent Pew study found that social media conversation was more partisan, more antagonistic and more outrageously inflammatory than public opinion really is, especially when it comes to posts on Facebook. According to Katie Rogers of The Guardian, “Earlier this year, Pew’s Internet and American Life project found that 18 percent of users have unfriended or blocked someone online due to political issues.” There is not really much discussion when it comes to politics on social media. Just tired sensationalism.
Social media establishes a community. And as defaulted members of that community, we need to adhere to some standards of discussion. We can’t simply post something for the easy “like” or upvote. It’s gotten to the point where there are very few people I can trust to actually post something meaningful when it comes to this election. So until that changes, I’ll stick with the cats.
Kinnari Shah is a chemical and biological engineering major from Washington, N.J. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.