The truth is, social media is the best thing ever to happen to politics and journalism
For me personally, I've discovered it's been a place to shed light on a topic
Editor’s Note: During the 1972 election, Timothy Crouse penned “The Boys on the Bus” – a book that introduced us to the gritty (mostly male) journalists on the campaign trail. Over four decades later, the daily grind of election may be the same, but the faces have certainly changed.
Meet CNN’s “Girls on the Bus.”
Social media gets a bad rap.
Sure, it’s become a place – particularly this election cycle – where on any day, someone calls me a “whore,” a sellout, or worse. It’s a place where trolls try to bait me into insignificant arguments and where conspiracy theorists call me a fraud for failing to report the “real” reason Donald Trump groped those women: Carlos Slim, of course.
It gets worse. The ugly underbelly of the alt-right movement, to which Trump has given legitimacy, has been exposed as it has turned to social media to spread anti-Semitic, racist and sexist propaganda. No fan of censorship, I have nonetheless taken to blocking anyone on Twitter who uses Pepe the frog – which the Anti-Defamation League now considers a hate symbol – in their avatar or tweet.
Some supporters of Trump enjoy tweeting Holocaust photos, promising that after the election that’s where I and other anti-Trumpers will end up. Swastikas, Confederate flags, white nationalists and anti-government anarchists haven’t just found a home on social media – they’ve found a front yard where they can openly and defiantly plant their disturbing yard signs for the world to see.
What’s there to do about this? Very little. Reporting hate speech on Twitter comes with complications, especially for First Amendment defenders who know that one man’s hate speech is another man’s free speech. Reporting offensive social media to some vague, corporate thought-police board isn’t very appealing to me.
But I do wish there was an app – (are you listening millennials?) – where you could send someone’s offensive tweet to three specific people: the offender’s mother, spouse and employer. I’m pretty sure the problem would take care of itself.
We complain a lot about social media and the way it treats us in politics, whether you’re voting Republican, Democrat or None of These Awful People for president this year. But the truth is, social media is the best thing ever to happen to politics and journalism.
Thanks to widespread Internet reach, we know – and care – about things that would otherwise be happening in far-flung corners of the earth. Ever hear of the Arab Spring? Of course you have, because you’re on Facebook.
Also, before social media, it was possible to believe disturbing movements like the alt-right were fringe and underground. It’s important to know up-close how movements like this are fomenting and where they are headed. Social media helps immensely.
And because of social media, news consumers have a way of venting at news producers. Instead of angrily yelling at your television, you can actually go on Twitter and tell Jake Tapper that he isn’t covering the thing you want him to cover (and he’ll tell you to watch the next segment). We, as news producers, whether we are reporters, anchors, editors, opinion contributors, are disadvantaged when we are protected from your reactions.
For me personally, I’ve discovered it’s been a place to shed light on a topic that I don’t think has gotten enough attention this election year, or since 2011, which is the plight of the Syrian children. I recently took to tweetstorming, not something I’d done much of before, photos and stories about the humanitarian crisis and found a lot of support in response, and gratitude for raising awareness. It’s a little thing – miniscule in fact – but it’s not nothing.
Trump supporters are, of course, against my doing this. Not for the policy (I haven’t prescribed any) but for what they call “concern trolling” and “virtue signaling,” other nasty stuff that comes with trying to do a good thing on social media. But for every awful idiot on Twitter, there are thousands more who are connecting with this issue in ways they haven’t before.
Whatever you use social media for, it undoubtedly comes with a lot of unwanted crap. Maybe ultimately you’ll decide it isn’t worth it for you, and you’d be justified. I can speak from experience – no one wants to be called a “loser” on Twitter. By Donald Trump.
But whether it’s shining light on an important social cause or sharing that perfect GIF that will brighten up someone’s day, social media is a force for good. It’s just up to us to use it.
SE Cupp is a CNN political commentator and a conservative.