Putting Politics in Everything

As this past weekend’s Super Bowl clearly exemplifies, within the past year or two, politics has made its way into almost anything and everything.  I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that the combative tone of the presidential primaries and presidential election, as well as the evolution of social media, have greatly contributed to this.  According to www.statista.com, the number of monthly active Facebook users has more than doubled since our last election, while the number of monthly active Twitter users has more than tripled.  This type of growth has not only helped provide more people a political voice, but created an environment where users can engage people around the world in political discussion with a few taps of their phone.

In the days before social media and the Internet, if someone came across something that could be construed as leaning towards one side of the political aisle, that same person would likely be forced to think, process, and reflect on what they had just seen prior to discussing it with others.  While doing all of those things is no guarantee of civil discourse, the fact that there was at least a reasonable amount of time between viewing and discussing means that one could take the time to be more thoughtful about the issue rather than simply using their gut reaction to what they saw.  Nowadays, after viewing something that may or may not be politically charged, a Twitter or Facebook user can reach for their phone and share with the world their very first reaction to what they just saw.

giphy-1

The resulting question: Is being able to share your gut reaction to anything and everything you see immediately with the world a net positive?  In a politically divisive climate like today, I’m not so sure the answer is yes.  A great example of how quick people are to react to something not meant as a political statement is the 60 second “Born the Hard Way” Budweiser commercial shown during the Super Bowl.  In it, Budweiser recounts the difficult journey of immigrant Adolphus Busch from his arrival to the United States until his eventual meeting with future partner Eberhard Anheuser.

The immediate reaction to the commercial, which was posted prior to the Super Bowl, was about as binary as possible.  Given the content of the commercial and the strong opposing views by the public of Donald Trump’s recent executive order to temporarily ban foreigners of seven majority-Muslim nations, it’s not hard to imagine why the commercial was viewed as Anheuser-Busch InBev taking a position on a touchy political subject like immigration.  Some supporters of President Trump’s executive order immediately launched a #BoycottBudweiser movement in response to the commercial, while some of those who oppose the ban staunchly supported the company.  This, obviously, has led to plenty of strife online and likely has contributed to furthering the division between those with differing politics.

The most interesting part of this situation is that AB InBev had already released statements about how the commercial is not a political statement, and in fact was conceived of and shot before the presidential election last November.  This, obviously, has not stopped people on social media from reading into the motivations behind the commercial and letting the social media universe know how they feel.  If everything else in the world was the same besides the existence of social media, would the conversations we have about the Budweiser commercial be the same?  Maybe.  Would we be able to view the commercial objectively and reflect rather than draw immediate assumptions based on what the Internet is telling us?  I hope so.

So what are things that we, as individuals and as a society, can do to make sure that we use social media in a way that facilitates thoughtful discussion about sensitive issues?  As individuals, I think it’s incumbent upon all of us to work towards using social media as a way to connect and further conversations beyond what our immediate reactions tell us.  This likely means avoiding our impulses to post to Twitter/Facebook the first thought that comes to our mind, especially about subjects that could be construed as controversial.  Even implementing a simple rule for oneself such as “I’m going to reflect on what I saw and the purpose of my post for one minute prior to posting” would create a culture that allows us to be more thoughtful instead of impulsive.

As a society, I think it starts with our education system.  It’s imperative that we teach children critical thinking skills that allow them to engage in conversations (both in-person and over social media) that are more involved than just the first thoughts that come to their mind.  Additionally, as the generation that has never known the world without social media, children today need guidance and education about how to successfully navigate and use social media personally and professionally.  Once we can create an online culture of reflection and discussion, I think we, as a society, will be able to find ways to engage and learn from each other rather than revert to our basic instincts.

 

 

9 comments

  1. I think the online disinhibition effect that we discussed last week is at play here as well. I’ve seen some pretty nasty political comments on Facebook the past few months and I highly doubt that if the commenter was face-to-face with the person they were “debating” that they would make the same comments (at least I hope not). Even just making the online conversation more civil would be a step in the right direction, let alone having people spend time reflecting on their post before sending it off.

  2. Great post. We did a reading last semester about how alot of the polarization in American politics comes from social media and the Internet. I didn’t included it this semester, because the election is behind us, but I might rethink and include it later on.

  3. Very interesting post. While I agree that education could help a lot of the impulsive posting that happens on social media (especially with politics), I think there are a lot of people out there who are just trolls (to cite our discussion from last class). People with good intentions would make a conscious effort to reflect before they post, but some people just seek a world of chaos and hate. Social media has made it easier for those with negative world views to antagonize and post without consequence.

  4. Awesome post! I hadn’t even seen that Budweiser released statements saying the commercial was shot pre-election and meant to be apolitical–that definitely adds an entirely new dimension to the controversy surrounding the ad. When you actually read the statement (that you linked), the company claims the commercial ‘has no correlation with anything else happening in the country’ yet ‘we believe…is very relevant today because probably more than any other period in history today the world pulls you in different directions, and it’s never been harder to stick to your guns,’ which to me seems like they are bringing in politics. It almost seems as though they wanted the headline saying they deny the politicization of the ad, yet did at least know of/intend some political undertones.

  5. I couldn’t agree more with the notion that people need to work on their impulsive tendencies when it comes to politics and social media. The biggest problem I see is how individuals discuss politics on social media in a very informal manner, often dumbing down what tend to be very complex and nuanced issues. If social media users expressed more restraint as you suggest they should, perhaps their arguments would become more intelligent, and would serve a better purpose.

  6. CarbNatalie · ·

    I took a class last semester where we performed extensive analytical research on news and media outlets during the elections and analyzed their economic and social impacts and the result showed the extremely polarizing effect that social media has on politics (an reading I’d be intrigued in @geraldckane). It is also increasingly interesting to understand and/or come to terms with how polarizing our new president may or may not be, giving a new taste to how politics is everywhere and coming from everyone (the president being someone that is definitely not expected to be a troll and/or polarizing once in office, right?).

  7. DanKaplan · ·

    It is interesting to hear your thoughts on how politics intersect with social media. One thing that fascinates me is how “fake” news stories can perpetuate throughout social media. What will start out as one tweet from a blogger or a news reporter, real or not, can permeate throughout all social networks. Whether the news is in regards to a trade in professional sports or politics, it is interesting to see what sticks/spreads and what simply flies under the radar.

  8. duffyfallon · ·

    Interesting information you were able to dig up regarding the AB immigration spot – it definitely caught my eye during the Super Bowl, and I’ve heard a bit about the following controversy. Immigration has been a hot topic in politics since the very beginning of the 45th presidential race, so even though they clam it was conceived and produced before the election, I find it hard to believe the ad had no underlying political message. To your point about the use of social media to discuss sensitive issues – i agree, and feel that the platforms we use facilitate posts rather than discussions. Comments rather than engagements. With social media everyone has the platform to share their views/opinions – I think like the 10 second rule with food on the ground, there should be some kind of a “stop and think moment” before positing to consider the full implications of what you’re putting out there.

  9. Ciaran_Cleary · ·

    Thanks for the post, Danny, I really enjoyed this ad, and the move by AB to promote their brand and product. Sometimes I wonder if instead of everything in our lives seeming political, politics is just taking over everything in our lives. I think you make a great point that if this commercial was done a couple years ago, pretty much everyone would probably enjoy it and not feel upset one way or the other. Social media has certainly supplied us with a political lens that we consume everything with. Also, I certainly try to stop and think before I post stuff to social media that may be controversial, but I will say that part of why I enjoy Twitter is how people shoot from the hip without maybe thinking everything through.

%d bloggers like this: