When performing my daily calisthenic routine, a vigorous index finger workout that hits all the main groups — Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and even Venmo when I feel generous — I come across a large problem. I’m not talking about the ads, although Facebook’s knowledge of my Amazon history is a little egregious. I watch one episode of “Bojack Horseman” and suddenly Facebook tries to sell me the boxed set.
“Horseman” aside, I’m talking about the social media accounts I follow. If you think Fox News and MSNBC show partisan bias, pay closer attention to your Twitter feed.
Americans don’t want statistics and mediated discussion anymore. Real bipartisan conversation is a thing of the past. Who needs it when you have Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson glaring at the camera every night like Gore Vidal’s ghost slipped him some tongue?
Televised news transitioned into the realm of reality TV and professional wrestling a long time ago. Their purpose isn’t to change the viewership’s mind — anyone watching Fox News every night already bought five Trumpy Bears as tentative Christmas gifts. Their purpose is to make money, and the easiest way for these networks to do so is to play off already established biases.
So, where does social media fit in? Take Twitter, for example. Millions of people have access to one another. A Republican in Texas has access to the opinions and beliefs of a Democrat in New York, a libertarian in Washington or even a Green Party member from Florida. But who does he choose to follow instead? Most likely, he follows another Republican from Texas.
If this wasn’t enough to completely nullify any semblance of contrarian thought, Twitter allows people the option to mute accounts or topics they don’t like because, let’s be honest, everyone gets tired of “covfefe” jokes sooner or later.
I’m not saying social media platforms should force their users to follow an account they disagree with idealistically — and the mute button, however much it may be abused, serves an essential purpose. But, the contentious state of American politics began with media outlets privileging a biased narrative over civil debate, and political upheaval has only grown worse since the involvement of click-bait producing social media accounts.
Fixing this problem is easier said than done, but as members of the voting population, we have a responsibility to stay informed. Instead of following social media accounts we agree with, we should follow accounts that challenge our beliefs. It’s irresponsible to disregard accounts just because the political affiliation they adhere to differs from our own.
I realize it is difficult to empathize with words on a phone screen, but still, it’s a start. Someone needs to fight back against the Sean Hanni-fying of America, and social media might just be the perfect medium to do it.
Michael Frank is a 22-year-old English and political science senior from New Orleans, Louisiana.