Tweeting into the Soul of America

Posted March 21, 2017

People tell me not to do it.

It’s just going to make you angry.”

“People only go on there to piss other people off.”

It’s not what real people think.”

It’s this last comment that makes me stop every time. Whenever we want to minimize the trolling and posturing that happens on Twitter, we  suggest that the people writing these posts are not reflective of the majority of Americans. Somehow, they’re merely the small minority who virtually yell louder than the rest of us.

Only, that’s not quite true anymore.

We’ve allowed ourselves to continue believing this crude stereotype where online discourse is led by the “sad, lonely people in their parent’s basements.” Even if the circumstances of these caricatures we’ve made up have changed over the years, we’re still promoting this idea that the people stirring the pot online are somehow dissatisfied and out of touch people who exist in isolation.

But we’re only fooling ourselves.

After the presidential election it’s become abundantly clear that the angry voices on Twitter are not simply one-off, petulant people removed from society. They are us. Some of them are the lowest form of us, but they’re still us.

With social media becoming our most popular outlet for expression, it’s time to realize that what people are saying on Twitter is more than the thoughts of  isolated individuals, but the thoughts of a large portion of American public (I won’t even begin to dive into the fact that Twitter has become the voice for the presidency as well).

This should be horrifying to everybody. Not just as liberal Northeasterners living in our bubble. We should be horrified because of what Twitter is revealing about  American citizens of all political affiliations, with all different types of upbringings, from all over the country.

Many of the facts Twitter illuminates about the American public aren’t entirely shocking, but I point them out to suggest that instead of bashing the platform as an outlet for the disgruntled, we might need to start examining it as a forum in which actually people are expressing their opinions and searching for others to verify their view on the world. Maybe by understanding it more, we, like our new president, can figure out how to make it work for us and maybe help to push the American public forward instead of holding it back.

In order to do that, we need to first come to terms with the truths about the American public that Twitter is revealing. (Truths that, if we’re being honest, many minorities in terms of race/gender/sexual orientation already knew and were just waiting for others to “get woke.”)

For one, we are judge one another in the most inane and illogical ways simply for the purpose of causing division and making us feel better about ourselves.

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This idea isn’t new; individuals have been trying to decide who is American for centuries. Now, we’re trying to drive that wedge even deeper, lopping off entire portions of the population in a way that probably hasn’t happened since the Civil War.

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According to Gallup polls from January, 36% of the country identifies itself as conservative, while 25% calls themselves liberal, which means when we make wide-sweeping comments about ideologies, we’re really categorizing at least a quarter of the population and claiming they’re less American than others.

Not to mention the irony of stating that voting for a certain candidate proves a person is “anti-American” when the democratic process of selecting a candidate of your own free will is the most American thing we still have (Electoral College aside). But nobody cares about that; we seem to be actively trying to create an “us versus them” mindset for the entire country.

More troubling, at least to me, is that we, as a culture, have proven to have a blatant disregard for facts.

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We can’t just say that this inability to believe factual evidence is only reflective of an uneducated group of people. We, as a culture at large, have been ignoring facts for the better part of a year now, at least. That the above tweet has over 1,000 likes is only a small microcosm of the reality that people refuse to give up on information that has proven to be inaccurate just because it doesn’t support their vision.

However, what’s equally problematic is that our response to the unveiling of this part of our culture says just as much about us: we’re terrible at arguing our opinion and prefer to simply insult or shame others. We cover up our inability to argue our own views with hatred; thus, covering up our own weaknesses by trying to deflect attention onto somebody else’s.

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This comes as no surprise to anybody who was ever in middle school, but most people believe that this was something we had outgrown. Instead of trying to create informative and effective avenues for discussion, we would rather just insult each other and drive a wedge even further between the groups we’ve begun to create.

Now, if we’re being honest, we know there’s no quick fix for the way we address each other on Twitter; this has been going on since Twitter first rose to popularity. However, it’s time to stop ignoring these tweets as the honest thoughts and beliefs of the American people that have lost any inhibition in regards to sharing them with the public. It’s time to stop ignoring Twitter as a viable avenue for dialogue. If anything, the president’s current model has suggested that many Americans actually pay more attention to what they read/see on Twitter than most other avenues.

So instead of ignoring these truths, we need to confront them; admit our weaknesses and address them. If you can’t defend your own opinion without insulting somebody, educate yourself more and try again.

If you see people who continue to spout falsehoods, provide them with verifiable links to facts, even if they continue to shout them down as FAKE NEWS (especially if they continue to do so).

If you see people trying to continuously divide groups of Americans and point out our differences, provide them with examples of our common ground.

It may seem foolish and futile, but nobody would argue that we’re currently in a struggle to help shape the future of American civilization and the front-line might just be on Twitter.