This has been the most bizarre presidential election in American history. Hands down. But talking about it invites a whirlwind of angry comments from people who simply see the world differently than you do.
So do we talk about it? Do we clam up? And where do we draw the line?
I’m very interested in hearing your thoughts…
Here’s what has this issue at the front of my mind this week. Anthony Thomas, the CEO of StickerMule, recently used his personal Twitter feed to promote one of the presidential candidates. There was a strong backlash among many StickerMule customers, who vowed to move their business to StickerMule’s competitors.
Politically-inspired boycotts are nothing new. It wasn’t that long ago (2003) that the Dixie Chicks saw their collective careers nose-dive after publicly criticizing the president.
And it’s weird. Depending on your own political views, you very likely support one of the above examples and condemn the other.
So, as people who publish creative content on the Web, we rely heavily on the support of out readers. We depend on ad revenue that their continuing readership generates. And we count on them to back our Kickstarter and Patreon campaigns.
American politics is polarized. As of October 2014, the Gallop Organization found that 43% of Americans identified as Democrats and 39% as Republicans, when party “leaners” were included; those figures changed to 41% Democratic and 42% Republican after the November 2014 elections.
Now, that doesn’t mean that nearly half of your readership espouses political beliefs that are opposite to your own. After all, it’s very likely that your comic skews towards readers of one side of the political spectrum or another.
On the other hand, it’s fair to assume that the number of opposite-thinking readers who come to your side is much bigger that you might expect.
Look at your own use of social media. How many people have you unfollowed during the last several months because they posted something political that made you angry? Go to your Facebook page and click on News Feed Preferences. Under Reconnect with People You’ve Unfollowed, you can see the list. I counted almost 70 people from this year alone on that list. And close to a hundred before that.
ProTip: Don’t Unfriend. Instead, Unfollow on Facebook. They don’t know you did it, and they can still get your outgoing posts.
But that’s Mirror Research! Let’s do a little Market Research. From NPR:
At the outset, the Internet was expected to be an open, democratic source of information. But algorithms, like the kind used by Facebook, instead often steer us toward articles that reflect our own ideological preferences, and search results usually echo what we already know and like.
As a result, we aren’t exposed to other ideas and viewpoints, says Eli Pariser, CEO of Upworthy, a liberal news website. Pariser tells NPR’s Elise Hu that as websites get to know our interests better, they also get better at serving up the content that reinforces those interests, while also filtering out those things we generally don’t like.
“What most algorithms are trying to do is to increase engagement, increase the amount of attention you’re spending on that platform,” he says. And while it’s a nice that we have an instrument to help us cope with the fire hose of information supplied by the Internet, that algorithm also carries some downsides. “The danger is that increasingly you end up not seeing what people who think differently see and in fact not even knowing that it exists.”
It’s what Pariser calls a “filter bubble.” And it’s something he tried to break out of himself, chronicling that experience in the book The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding from You. The results were, well, mixed.
“I was medium successful,” Pariser says. “It’s hard, and that’s partly because we know the people that we know, and those tend to be slanted in one ideological direction or another so you have to really work to find people who think differently.”
For more reading
S. D. Reicher et al. A Social Identity Model of Deindividuation Phenomena, European Review of Social Psychology (1995). DOI: 10.1080/14792779443000049
Eun-Ju Lee. Deindividuation Effects on Group Polarization in Computer-Mediated Communication: The Role of Group Identification, Public-Self-Awareness, and Perceived Argument Quality, Journal of Communication (2007). DOI: 10.1111/j.1460-2466.2007.00348.x
E. Bakshy et al. Exposure to ideologically diverse news and opinion on Facebook, Science (2015). DOI: 10.1126/science.aaa1160
So, if you voice a political opinion, you face reader backlash and censure as the quietly remove you from their own echo chamber. But if you stay quiet, you may feel complicit as the other side advances notions you discagree with. And by never voicing an opinion, aren’t you tacitly reinforcing your readers’ own echo-chambers, as well? You may well feel that you have a moral obligation to speak out. But you also know that the repurcussions can be harsh.
What do you do?
I’ll be moderating this discussion like a beast. I have zero problems deleting impolite comments — and nuking this entire thread if necessary. So pay close attention:
We’re discussing the topic of discussing politics on our websites and social media — in general.
I don’t want us to get bogged down in disparaging/defending one side or the other. We’re not talking about the specifics of the American presidential race — or any other political race.
We will not mention Trump or the Tape or the Wall or Deportations. We will also not mention Clinton or the Emails or Benghazi or Bill. Because that’s not what this discussion is about.
So here’s the question…
Do you talk about political issues on your site / social media — and why?