Ctrl: Social Media Politics

Caio Brighenti, Maroon-News Staff

My country just had a presidential election. Perhaps you’ve seen something in the news recently about an authoritarian right-wing candidate leading polls in Brazil, or about how the other party is led by an imprisoned convict. As an international student from Brazil who was here during the U.S.’s tumultuous election, I can safely say the Brazilian election was crazier.

I’m not going to get into the politics. While I’m sure that the readers of this weekly cheeky tech column would love to get some insight into domestic Brazilian politics for a change, that’s not really quite the point. Instead, I’m going to talk about social media in the context of politics.

I’m sure anyone with a Facebook profile and at least a few dozen friends has at some point seen a political post. These are hardly rare, but I’m usually used to seeing more life updates and bad memes than politics. Even during the 2016 U.S. election, I feel like most people realized posting election stuff on Facebook just really isn’t all that enticing. At best, you get a handful of likes and maybe a heart emoji, but at worst you get a fervent debate between two of your friends who don’t even know each other over something that’s really not that interesting. But during the Brazilian presidential election, my feed turned into a political battlefield between the two sides in a way I never would’ve expected.

We’ve all heard the concept of echo chamberswe preach our political views on social media, and our friends who agree with us give us a nice little heart react and comment something about how right we are. People disagreeing are hardly the norm. But what I’ve seen over the last month has been an all out war. Practically no post on either side was free of commentary from the other, with one in every three posts having chains with over 20 comments. Amazingly, I watched people switch sides across these debates and, unfortunately, I watched friendships and even families erode.

Today, I saw a close cousin post “you will lose friends, you will lose family, you will regret this.” I watched another cousin essentially derail her relationship with her father to the point of practically no recovery, over a 12-word post he shared. Christmas this year should be interesting.

Through social media, I was somehow able to keep a finger on the pulse of not only the politics of my country, but also the relationships between my own friends and family. I find it fascinating that despite not being in the country for any point in the election, I had a good understanding of the nuances of how people’s thinking changed throughout it. I also found myself asking what it meant that such typically private political disputes happened in public, visible to all and saved forever.

I’m really not sure I have an answer yet, but I do think there’s something to be said about the boldness social media imbues in people. Being able to say whatever you want without immediate consequences, without having to look someone in the eye and with the added benefit of taking as long as you want to come up with a response allows you to be much braver with what you say.

I don’t know whether this is a good or bad thing. For one, it creates a better informed and honest dialogue. There’s a greater focus on the idea at hand than on the way someone delivers that idea. That being said, it makes it a lot easier to discard a relationship cultivated over years. Whatever the merits of the situation, it is impossible to disagree that social media has completely changed the way we do politics.

Contact Caio Brighenti at [email protected].