Over the course of the election cycle, I noticed that politicians have taken to social media as a way to persuade voters. Although President Trump’s tweets did get a lot of attention, other candidates were active, too. Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton had arguments on social media; Joe Biden and Barack Obama created a sweet image promoting brotherhood. The image took on a life of its own in memes and pictures that circulated the internet. Not only has this been the most tweeted election, but a new record was set: according to Nick Pacilio, Twitter’s Communications Manager for Politics and Elections, seventy-five million tweets were sent on Election Day.
What really hooked me was that, though many politicians stated their opinions and said many things on social media platforms, during the debates they were never questioned on what they had said. It made me wonder if they could be held accountable for tweets and posts. I had always thought social media was more of a casual, “anything goes” form of expression. But here were politicians talking about their plans and opinions without being questioned when they contradicted themselves; no one referenced their tweets and posts. I think this is partially why Donald Trump could get away with saying rash things on social media—the platform isn’t viewed as a credible source.
“People tweet their opinions and reactions [and] I think it’s important that people tweet their honest opinions and that they be held accountable,” says Pacilio. But by that definition, would that make any source that reports facts and people’s opinions a credible source? Or is there something special about Twitter? Maybe the fact that it is so widely used across the government or how easy it is to post an opinion.
But is there a difference between an opinion and facts? Twitter wants people to use it as a news source, but unchecked tweets aren’t always the best thing. Despite the fact-checkers of fake news, it is hard to keep up as well as check someone’s opinion. Because people have a right to free speech, when someone believes false facts and is persistent in their belief, it is hard to stop the domino fall.
A team of researchers told CNN, “People on social media tend to share content that relates to a specific narrative, even if it’s false.” If you are seeing fake news that is targeted toward your views, common sense suggests you’re more likely to share it. But I think this is exactly why Twitter can be a little controversial in terms of a news site. Fake news can circulate so quickly that it becomes dangerous. If anyone can post their opinion on social media (including politicians) that leaves facts in jeopardy, especially when people post opinions based on false facts.
In my view, social media can be an accurate way to form an opinion, just like a person’s speech. It’s important for politicians and everyday people to understand that their words have consequences. If your words reach a massive amount of people, even if they do support you, you should be held accountable.
In the future social media can still be casual, just, in my view, not in politics. On social media there are no rules; the “anything goes” format of it is what makes it special. But can politics be that casual? I think the lines have been blurred too far and that it is up to my generation to write the unwritten rules.