Liberty Expose: Politics in the Age of Social Media

We are living in an age of a cultural shift brought about by the revolution in digital media. Discourse surrounding public affairs now has new platform to be molded around, and American political culture has already seen a drastic change – though maybe not for the better

Many of us, in our naiveté, have an idealistic view of democratic politics; we envision people combing through the merits and detractions in negative and positives rights, the nature of the social contract, whether Locke or Rousseau was right, etc. That is not the reality. The unfortunate truth is that popular politics is a form of cultural expression.

It explains why so many who don the hat of conservatism, a philosophy that is predicated on civic virtue, vehemently support Donald “bloody facelift” Trump. Hypocrisy is born out of this realty – indeed, during the 2012 election, president Obama was caught on hot mike stating to Demetri Medvedev that he planned to deescalate pressure on Russia following the election (this was before the invasion in Crimea and intervention in Syria). There was little anger from it. The supposed Russian connections of president Trump are now dominating the media. This is of course because the media (broadly defined) is run by people, and people have agenda

Technology habitually decimates the Utopian vision of the improved man: the cotton gin was utilized to metastasize slavery when it seemed like it might fade away. The industrial revolution, which brought upon the world an unprecedented amount of prosperity, also introduced the largescale murderous warfare of the 20th century. Advancements in physics would lead to a world in a perpetual stand-off, with nuclear annihilation possible at any time.

Now, the internet, and the succeeding social media that environed a world more connected, a world where brings can be built between people, is now victim to the latest reiteration of human nature. When people are connected more closely, their differences become even more exposed. Often, to certain people, being exposed to differing ideas and cultures re-enforces their own world views. If anything, they are more radicalized than pacified by being connected.

Islamist groups can now spread their hate to anywhere in the world, thieves can attack networks across continents, and the inner narcissism the rests in every individual now has the platform to grow – human nature cannot be tamed. (Therefore, as far as accuracy is possible, Star Wars is far superior to Star Trek.) Twenty years ago, the notion of one bringing a photographer on casual outings is preposterous; yet, many members of society now do that.

This leads to the ultimate manifestation of egotism: selfie culture. People take photos of their meals, of themselves at concerts and other events, photograph buildings they are witnessing, and randomly capture themselves through the lens, for no reason other than it is now the culturally appropriate thing to do.

“To be is to be perceived” the Irish philosopher George Berkeley once wrote. On the macro level, politician’s careers are propelled and destroyed by perception, and substance often takes a back seat. President Trump won the highest office in the land by his ability to be perceived as not being politically correct, and many wished to see Hillary Clinton win the presidency due to their desire to see a woman hold the office. On the micro scale in everyday life, perception and selfie culture play a more obnoxious and obvious role. Take a step back and reflect on how society has come to appoint that a device called a “selfie stick” is popular. This all comes courtesy from the rise of the internet and social media – and social media politics and news

With the rise of the internet came the proliferation of online news sources that would explode into what the news is today – Drudge Report and the Huffington Post being two notable examples. With the coming-of-age of social media, the problem of poignant news sources metastasized. Now, many “news” sources exist to harvest likes from viewers whom only want to see news that bends to their will.

When not writing puff pieces about fill-in-the blank public figures, the sources specialize in the making of memes, graphics, and other videos – all while excessively using capitalization to enforce their sense of righteous indignation. The new media is enticed by “likes” – and people don’t like to witness that which challenges their worldview. Instead, clickbait headlines such as “you won’t BELIEVE what (X) said,” or “this is OUTRAGEOUS,” or “(X) totally DESTROYS (Y political group)” now plague the feeds of social media users. The media continues to agitate the problem.

One could argue that this trend has been in the making for some time. Indeed, broadcast media has hardly done a stellar job in cultivating a spirit of debate in the American civil society. Broadcast media habitually neglected in-depth analysis of debates; instead, quick segments providing rudimentary overviews of news is what dominated the media. It is the “Now…This” phenomenon, as described by Neil Postman.

Broadcast media is also at fault for other reasons; viewers have often selected what to watch and listen to. Those on the right will naturally want to watch Fox, while on the left prefer CNN. On the radio, the left would prefer NPR (which is undeniably biased in favor of progressivism) and those on the right would enjoy whatever local talk-station suits there needs – whether that be a Cumulous station or The Answer.

One could pontificate on why people should consider the arguments on all sides, why the media must reform itself, but those thoughts are naïve. People have worldviews – and these worldviews often bend the perception of truth to one’s own will. Not to sound like a relativist – there is indeed a truth – but finding it is often challenged by ideological obstacles. It is a source of convivence America has the Federalist system in the age of relativistic media.

It’s needless to say that people have their differences. Recent history shows that bringing together people with diverse views tends to lead towards more intense withdrawal into their belief systems. This problem is only worsening, and it is adversely effecting America. Luckily for America, the framers of the constitution were a divided bunch themselves, and created a governing system predicated on differing worldviews – Federalism.

The Federalist system was predicated on a nation of many worldviews. Since the presidency is becoming more of a cultural post, now more than ever it should be imperative that the decentralized nature of the federal government resurrect itself. It serves the interest of both sides, though both sides will now argue against. The left, because progressives believe in the federal government being powerful, and on the right, many of surrendered the conservative notion of localism since Trump is in office (again, it’s the culture, stupid.)

In a nation of multiple worldviews, why not embrace the differences, and build or own polities instead of trying to dominate one another with the fist of the federal government. But this leads into substantive issue – and substantive debate has no place in the world of techno-cultural politics.