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Nastiness on Social Media

Tori O'Neal-McElrath

Confession: I've defriended people on Facebook when their political rants and vicious posts got to be too much. And it seems to be happening more and more this election season with people on opposing sides resorting to name calling and aggressive online behavior all in the name of “their candidate.” The online antagonism isn’t limited to one political party; the vitriol comes from people who “Feel the Bern,” tag each post with #ImWithHer and want to “Make America Great Again.” People are using social media to bully, batter and browbeat those with differing views and it’s got to stop if we want to preserve our democracy. 

As it turns out, I'm not alone in my distaste for the nastiness on social media. According to a new poll of more than 1,000 voters conducted by Rad Campaign, Lincoln Park Strategies and craigconnects:

  • 63 percent of Democrats and 50 percent of Republicans believe all campaigns should be reining in their most aggressive supporters.
  • 57 percent rank Trump supporters as behaving the most aggressively and threateningly, as compared to 30 percent who rank Clinton supporters as most aggressive.
  • 50 percent of respondents recently expressed an opinion on social media in support of or in opposition to a presidential candidate.
  • About 20 percent of respondents report “unfriending” someone because of their diverging political opinions.

Social media has the power to do a tremendous amount of good in our democratic process. We've seen the power of social media in President Obama’s landmark victory in 2008, achieved in large part because of his ability to connect with young voters online (Obama won nearly 70 percent of the vote among Americans under the age of 25). A short eight years ago, the web was seen as a force for good, a way to bring people of similar political views together through Facebook, YouTube, MySpace (remember when that was a thing?), Twitter, Flickr and so many other platforms. 

Let’s harken back to the good old days of the 2008 election, a nicer, more genteel time of social media when it was used to organize, turn out and promote democracy. At a time when we're trying to encourage people to use their power at the ballot box, let’s not silence them with online bullying. 

Founder of craigconnects, Craig Newmark, agrees and said, "In a free country like the U.S., everyone gets a chance to say who runs things. Voting's how we make that happen. When we see 93 million eligible voters staying home, we know something's broken. The electoral system has big problems; let's fix them instead of picking a fight.”