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Election Creating Anti-Social Media

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Social media managers at the RNC (credit: CBS)

Social media managers at the RNC (credit: CBS)

Written by Dominic Dezzutti

The bitterness of the 2012 election rears its ugly head every time you turn on the television or radio. The vitriol spewed in campaign ads is sad, but at the very least, predictable.

You would think that your friends would be a refuge from this ugliness. However, more people than ever before are finding that their own social media accounts are as bitter as a battlefield for politics as any TV screen sharing or radio station.

This election has pitted many so-called “friends” against each other, and made some social media accounts the scenes of vicious debates. If you have a Facebook or Twitter account, you clearly know what I mean.

As a social media user, you are likely one of three kinds of people during this election.

a. You are tolerating the fights on your accounts, but are trying to bring some sense of calm to the conversations, reminding folks that we are all Americans, and looking very forward to when the election is over.
b. You are avoiding your accounts as much as possible, knowing that the kind of fights that are breaking out between your contacts would make many UFC fighters blush.
c. You are taking part in the social media battles, considering it your mission to advocate for your candidate and make clear to everyone within earshot of your comments how your candidate’s opponent will single handedly bring about Armageddon.

This political season is also showing that many social media users are more comfortable showing their true political colors online than they are in person. If everyone that was politically vocal on social media were equally vocal with yard signs and bumper stickers, signs would be in thousands of more yards and stickers would be on even more cars.

This comfort level online may be because one person’s opinion can go much further than a sign in a yard can, but I think it also says something about how using social media provides a mythical force field, even though you are not anonymous.

Others know may know who you are on social media sites, but many users seem to comment in a way that they wouldn’t in a normal live conversation. Under the guise of a Twitter handle, people seem perfectly comfortable lobbing Molotov cocktails into conversations that they would never do in person.

I’m not a psychoanalyst, so I have no idea why this is. But the fact that is happens carries much more weight during an election.

Not because every comment posted is changing votes, but collectively, the comments give the entire campaign a very negative and divisive feel. For partisan voters, this is almost an aphrodisiac, but for middle of the road, independent voters, it is a major turn off.

And in an election when many polls in swing states are still within the margin of error, any phenomenon that will turn off, and possibly turn away swing votes, can make a huge impact.

I am not claiming that the fight your conservative and progressive friends are having on your Facebook page will change the entire election. But it’s easy to imagine that if people are fighting on your account, they are likely fighting on other accounts.

That collective tension needs to go somewhere and can’t simply dissipate without having some affect on all of us.

Will it affect an election? Maybe.

Will it affect the way we communicate, and create an entirely new battleground for campaigns to exploit? Yes, and it already has.

About The Blogger

- Dominic Dezzutti, producer of the Colorado Decides debate series, a co-production of CBS4 and Colorado Public Television, looks at the local and national political scene in his CBSDenver.com blog. Read new entries here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Dezzutti writes about federal, state and local matters and how our elected leaders are handling the issues important to Colorado. Dezzutti also produces the Emmy winning Colorado Inside Out, hosted by Raj Chohan, on Colorado Public Television.

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