In the months leading up to the 2008 presidential election, social media was still kind of in its infancy. I was new to Facebook, I wasn’t yet on Twitter, and I didn’t have a YouTube channel. I’d never heard of Reddit.
That has changed massively since then, and social media toxicity is the topic du jour among the chattering class. It raises an interesting problem. Some of what gets shared on social media as part of an election cycle is thoughtful and substantive. More of it, though, is either tribal drum-beating or outright partisan bleating. I fear that this will get worse in the 2018 midterm elections and the 2020 presidential election. What can we do about it?
In his book The Ethics of Voting, the philosopher Jason Brennan discusses the problem of “polluting the polls,” which voters do when they cast votes that do not reflect a justified belief that they are contributing to the common good (see Brennan’s book for the full argument).
Learn More: Debate: Is democracy overrated? Yes.
In the same way, we’re polluting the public forum when we pass along or share bits of commentary and information of dubious intellectual value.
Indeed, I’m not convinced that keeping a keen eye on partisan politics — especially in a presidential election — is really such a good use of time and energy. First, your presidential vote won’t matter. Even if you live in a swing state, the likelihood that your vote will determine the outcome of the election is effectively zero. Your vote is even less relevant (for purposes of deciding the election, anyway) if you live in states like California or Texas, which are virtual locks for the Democratic and Republican candidates respectively in every election.
When you participate in partisan bomb-throwing, you forgo the opportunity to read, write, or do something much more constructive. But what could be more constructive than passing around and dwelling on articles claiming to have unearthed dirt on candidate Bad Guy? The answer is “just about anything.”
How do you know yer doin’ it wrong? There’s no clear answer, but here’s my social media pledge for doin’ it right:
Art Carden’s Social Media Pledge
Can the content of the piece be summarized as follows?
- is the next best thing to Jesus
- is the Antichrist
- is a secret Muslim
- hates poor people
- hates America
- is a corporate puppet
- is otherwise a jackass
(Circle all that apply.)
If so, I will not share it, I will not comment on it, I will not “like” it, I will not tweet it, and I will not submit it to Reddit. I might even unfriend you or hide you from my news feed.
This is definitely an issue in which there is none righteous — no, not one. My own hands are dirty and my own heart is impure; however, I have seen the light. I repent.
My time is too precious and the issues at stake are too important to be passed through the gauntlet of partisan name-calling. The next time you’re tempted to “like” or “share” what amounts to nothing more than incendiary muckraking, resist. The world will be a better place for it. Be sure to “share” if you agree.