BY ATHENA FOSLER-BRAZIL
Social media is changing the landscape of politics. Not only are politicians themselves logging into the social network, but platforms like Instagram and Twitter are dramatically altering the way young people find their information and spread their ideas. On campuses everywhere, social media provides a platform for students to share their opinions; however, it can also lead to conflict between teenagers online.
On the CHS campus in particular, a number of students report facing ridicule when they post especially polarizing views online, peers taking to the comment section to berate them for their beliefs. Carmel High junior Hana Kamler, open about her support of President Trump, describes one such incident.
“I would post something on my [Snapchat] story, and I’d have people respond and say, ‘Why do you believe in that? Are you retarded?’” says Kamler, who has posted photos of herself wearing Trump merchandise and written briefly online about issues she feels strongly about.
According to Kamler, personal attacks based on her political posts are not uncommon, dissuading her from posting her opinions at all, though she still feels compelled to put her thoughts out there on occasion.
In a 2018 survey of American teenagers done by Pew Research Center, it was concluded that 95 percent of teens 13-18 have access to a smartphone, the most frequently visited apps being YouTube, Snapchat and Instagram. Internet access is nearly ubiquitous, but the same study reported that 45 percent of teens are unsure whether this constant access has had a positive impact on their lives.
Junior Addy Carley, who has also openly showed support for Trump, has observed trends in the way teenagers communicate online, particularly about politics.
“I don’t think you should go [online] and post about why you’re right and they’re wrong,” Carley says. “You should just post about how you feel.”
Carley notices that many people on social media are hostile and aggressive about their opinions and more inclined to insult and target each other than actually talk about a topic or work to find common ground, similar observations to Kamler’s.
“They don’t bother to ask me why I believe in something,” notes Kamler, saying that many of the responses she receives are emotionally driven and intentionally trying to hurt her, though she says she doesn’t post to offend or target anyone in particular.
Senior Clementine Chamberlain, an outspoken Democrat, has had similar experiences when she has posted on social media about politics, facing backlash and ridicule from other students on campus.
According to CHS social studies teacher Marc Stafford, this all has to do with the way social media forces people to interact.
“I think the problem with social media when it comes to something like politics is that you’re limited in what you can say,” Stafford says. “We’re required to eliminate nuance from the conversation.”
Forced to simplify understandings and opinions of complicated political issues into the format social media provides, these posts can make communicating effectively difficult. Junior Alex Faxon expresses frustration over how people interact over social media.
“I don’t find that arguing with people on the internet is a very effective way of communicating,” Faxon says. “A lot of times it’s emotionally driven. There’s a lot of anger.”
Teachers and students agree, communicating effectively and coming to compromise is made difficult by the limited format social media provides.
“The nuance is where there’s middle ground…where we might be able to find agreement,” Stafford says. “When we start to eliminate that we’re kind of cast into two corners that can never find that middle ground.”
While finding compromise on social media in a divisive political climate is difficult, it does happen, sometimes simply requiring a little more time and thought.
“We did definitely agree,” Chamberlain says of a conversation about gun regulations she had with a conservative boy in her grade on Instagram. “We got to some middle ground. There were only a couple of things we didn’t agree on.”
Faxon believes that the goal should be for both sides of the debate to work to find what’s right, not just prove who’s correct.
“It should be everyone’s job to search for the truth and not just win arguments,” Faxon says of his take on the issue.
In an era where the president has tweeted over 2,000 times since his election, social media has facilitated positive discourse too, enabling numerous movements including the #MeToo movement and #BlackLivesMatter. Social media also facilitates the spread of information, making it accessible to a wide reach of individuals.
“Social media can be used for good and for spreading positive messages and giving people outlets to share their voice,” Chamberlain says.
The fact that social media has given high school students a platform to get involved in politics early has undeniably changed the political climate, with movements such as the 2018 March For Our Lives being student-led and publicized largely on social media.
CHS history teacher Brent Silva feels that student involvement in politics is generally positive as long as teenagers learn how to effectively communicate online.
“The more interactive they are, especially with students at a younger age, that’s probably going to lead to more political activity in terms of voting and getting involved,” Silva says, “but that’s all based on how healthy those interactions are online.”