Twitter and Modern Political Discourse

Social media has taken over as our number one source of insight as to what is going on in the world. It has come to the point that Twitter is now a “reasonable” place to look to find information about politics, whether it be from news sources, your friends’ opinions, or politicians themselves. We now have immediate access to anyone’s, and everyone’s, take on a story.

The problem with having access at our finger-tips is that everyone does, and it has become a tool for unfiltered reactions to our polarized world. We are well aware that this country has become more and more politically divided over the past decade, and that is becoming increasingly prevalent on Twitter.

Prior to a couple of years ago, social media was relatively irrelevant in the political sphere, but Trump was the breaking point for political discourse. The situation had been built perfectly to allow high-ranking members of society to use social media as a form of communicating with the public. For a while, everyone tried resisting Trump’s use of Twitter, but they couldn’t deny the effect it was having on politics. Now, it seems like everyone has gone down the social media rabbit hole.

Twitter is an unofficial means of communication with the only real restriction being the 280-word limit. This leaves anyone able to say anything, thinking that it won’t be scrutinized offline. People think that calling each other names and bashing each other in these tweets is okay; that it’s not doing any harm. But it’s harming society, because when our leaders use these tactics, it makes it seem like it’s okay for the rest of society to be hostile to each other too.

An example of this failing discourse on Twitter can be seen through some reactions to the feud over the State of the Union this past January. Because of the government shutdown, Pelosi suggested Trump not give his speech; he said nah it’s fine, but then she actually canceled the State of the Union until the government reopened. Trump ended up giving his speech on February 5, a week after the originally scheduled date.

 

Here are some tweets about this issue:

 

 

Scott Dworkin is the co-founder of the Democratic Coalition, and in this tweet, he is bashing GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy. He calls him all sorts of horrible things, simply for making a statement against Pelosi. Similarly, James Woods, a vocally conservative actor disses the entirety of Congress simply because they weren’t agreeing with Trump on this particular issue.

 

 

We see this type of public disrespect all the time now, and it’s even coming from our political leaders, other than Trump, that is.

 

 

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) is calling out Trump himself here. While I don’t think anyone completely likes Trump’s public relations, he is still the President of the United States, and that title is supposed to carry respect from the people and other politicians. These are very forthright examples of what is constituted as ‘discourse’ these days; there are also some more subtle ways of calling out people you don’t like, such as what Charlie Kirk does here:

 

 

Politicians are always compared to their predecessors, so Kirk twists the popular narrative of the former administration in order to bash those who disagree with the current one. We get tweet after tweet of influential people calling out and disrespecting their peers, simply because they don’t agree with each other. While they are fairly new to the Twitter bandwagon, we see everyone else doing it, too. Twitter, and social media in general, are meant to be places for people to connect online and where everyone can have a voice, even if they feel like they don’t in their own lives. This is how we get accounts such as @Catturd2 having influential tweets about politics.


@Catturd2 is essentially anonymous, and yet has over 12,000 followers. This is proof that anyone can have an opinion and be influential on social media these days. The ability for everyone to be allowed a voice is the positive side of social media and is the side that we need to hold onto.

After seeing these tweets, and however many others you may see on your own feed, do you believe that this is what political discourse should look like? I don’t. I think we have a huge mess to clean up. We can never go back to political discourse all being official communications by people with some amount of authority, whether in government or in news agencies and journalism. We should adopt the decorum of the past while still utilizing our modern technology. Social media isn’t going to disappear, and technology is only going to continue to advance.

We should make the effort to revitalize discourse in three steps. First, we should start by having civil, in-person conversations with those who disagree with us politically. How we interact on social media reflects tensions that we feel every day. We can let it all out in a tweet when we might not be able to in our personal lives. There are too many instances of people who try to discuss a topic, and it only turns into a yelling match. We must remember that it’s okay if we disagree with each other, it’s how we talk about those differing opinions that make us a united or a disjointed society.

Second, we need to straight-up stop the name calling and the blatant disrespect of each other. We are all people, and we all have feelings. Whether we are high-level politicians or first-year college students, we need to treat each other like human beings. It is not okay, on any level, to call someone any degrading term, such as the ones above, simply because they disagree with you on politics. Disagreement over politics is how society progresses, and we need to remember that fact. Instead of thinking of other opinions as opposed to your own, think of them as new ideas to challenge your own, to make you think. If you still believe in your opinion, then use the other positions to make your own argument stronger.

The third step would be to take each of the previous two steps and apply them to your online presence. When you’re online, you are presenting yourself to the world, and this presentation cannot be taken down; it exists forever, or as long as the Internet exists. Nobody wants to be viewed as intolerant and rude. Take the time to think about what you post, because these days, posting is equivalent to saying something for the public record, and this something is a lot more permanent than it used to be. I understand that, these days, it’s not possible to be civil with everyone on the Internet. There are people there purposefully angering others and we usually call them trolls. If you realize that someone is trolling, don’t try to play nice with them; in fact, don’t play with them at all. Ignore the trolls at all costs, because interacting with them only fuels their fire, and causes them to drum up even more drama.

It is our duty, as the future of society, to make political discourse civil again. Currently, our predecessors are screwing it up and will leave us with the fallout. We can’t simply wait to inherit society to start fixing it, we must start now. Who knows, maybe learning to talk to each other again will enable us to get some other things done.