Social media’s predominant role in our daily lives has, inevitably, influenced the way electoral campaigns are run - and ultimately won. The Gazette’s Henry Aubin recently wrote a fascinating column on the internet’s role in the political polarization of society; particularly here in Quebec.
“With social media, people can read only that which comforts – rather than challenges – their opinions,” he writes.
Being a daily witness to what my Facebook and Twitter friends (many in diametrically opposed political camps) choose to share every day, I can wholeheartedly attest to that phenomenon.
There’s a real paradox in the fact that something that can provide us with limitless information [the internet], has also somehow managed to reduce our tolerance for respectful debate; for a difference of opinion. The web has become an echo chamber that, if used incorrectly and with a one-track mind, can do more damage than good.
And I’m not just referring to how important what you choose to read and how you choose to process it is, but also the fact that Facebook and Twitter have become an endless supply of clever memes and hastily-put-together videos that, sure… manage to elicit a few giggles (depending, of course, on what your political allegiances are and who the target is), but do absolutely nothing to advance the political debate.
If the brilliant people involved in creating those memes and those videos applied that creativity and ingenuity towards something constructive, instead of appealing to the lowest common denominator, maybe it would help elevate the level of political discourse. I mean, here’s a novel concept… if you don't support someone, be ready to explain why. Don't ridicule, don't hit below the belt, and don't propagate sexist drivel...
But maybe in a political reality where Federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney calls Alberta Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk "a complete and utter *sshole" in an email (that damned “reply all” button, right?), and where Québec Solidaire MNA, Amir Khadir is found to own a parody of a famous painting showing the image of a dead Jean Charest at his feet, and he simply refuses to see anything wrong with that, I’m being a tad naïve. Maybe all gloves are off.
After all, attack ads and slimy sarcastic comebacks have proven- time and time again- to work. They spread like wildfire on social media sites, people “LOL” and share them like it’s nobody’s business.
After all, attack ads and slimy sarcastic comebacks have proven- time and time again- to work. They spread like wildfire on social media sites, people “LOL” and share them like it’s nobody’s business. -
And according to media strategists, they mainly work on two core groups of voters; the hard-core supporters who need their anger and their fears stoked, and uninformed and uninterested swing voters who cast their ballot largely based on image and perception. These two groups probably represent the majority of voters right there!
That nearly none of these attack ads, memes and videos have anything to do with reality, seems irrelevant in how well they appear to work. After all, why let the facts get in the way of an interesting story?
Politics is a contact sport and there’s nothing inherently wrong with harsh and relentless criticism of a party’s platform and/or actions, but character assassination or personal smears are petty and unnecessary, only serving to make people react in an emotional way, rather than weighing the issues in a rational manner. They’re the last resort of political spin doctors appealing to people who are not voting for a party, but rather against one.
You can disagree with the PQ without propagating a meme of Pauline Marois on a package of cheese, entitled “La Vache Qui Rit”. You can disagree with Jean Charest without laughing at him as the Ronald McDonald clown. To disagree, one doesn't have to be disagreeable.
Barb Byrum, one of two Democrats recently banned for saying the word “vagina” in the U.S. Senate (on an abortion bill, no less, but the Unites States have their own issues) responded to claims made by Republicans that she “disrupted decorum” by stating: "This is what we've been reduced to. Calling each other names."
Calling each other names has become the new normal. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Isn’t it time for the informed, the level-headed, and the moderate to stand up and demand better? Ad hominem personal attacks that insult and belittle, that focus on the petty and the trivial, ultimately only serve to belittle the political process itself. While we’re busy laughing at the clever puns, this snide sneering is bringing us all down a notch.