Social media is not the final word in political discussion
By The Editorial Board
Over the past several months, something has shifted on the social media platform Instagram. The app has become an increasingly popular site for activism and political commentary on both sides of the spectrum. This shift happened years ago on Facebook, but for the younger, more tech-savvy generation, this is the first time they have dealt with political misinformation on social media.
Political misinformation occurs on both sides of the political spectrum; far-right Instagram accounts will present disingenuous data ‘proving’ that systemic racism does not exist in America, while far-left Instagram accounts make false claims about world hunger costing $30 billion to solve (a claim from a 2010 United Nations announcement that has been revised heavily in the decade since it was made). Many of the arguments made by political Instagram posts are true, but without proper context, these posts should operate as conversation starters rather than factual reports. As the Internet plays a larger and larger role in elections, people on both sides of the political spectrum need to view political social media posts with a healthy degree of skepticism, never repeating these claims without first fact-checking them against real news sources.
To provide an example, one political-leaning post that makes the rounds on Instagram every few months explores the topic of male vasectomies. ‘Vasectomies are reversible,’ the post claims, and as such, ‘men should get them instead of forcing painful and expensive birth control on women.’ Plenty of people believe this at first glance. After all, if a vasectomy is ‘getting one's tubes tied,’ why can’t a doctor just ‘untie the tubes’ to reverse it? However, vasectomies are not safely reversible, as every professional from Planned Parenthood to the Mayo Clinic will say.
This example of a misleading Instagram post is a somewhat benign one, but such posts can be far more dangerous. Earlier this year the Wayfair Conspiracy― a conspiracy that alleged the affordable furniture company Wayfair was selling children along with their cabinets― went viral on social media, before being connected to the QAnon Conspiracy Theory, a dangerous conspiracy that has been labeled as a cult and is listed by the FBI as a domestic terrorist threat. The Wayfair Theory was immediately disproved when it surfaced that the kids claimed missing had been found years ago and were very angry that their faces were being plastered all over social media.
It must be emphasized that social media is a powerful platform for political activism, and the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement in response to the murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd by police has led to Instagram being a home for community leaders and grassroots movements across the country, with political activists and organizations like the NAACP taking advantage of the platform to create huge dedicated followings.
In politics, things are never as simple as good versus. bad, and social media is no exception. There is plenty of accurate, thought-provoking political content on Instagram, but also a lot of misleading and even dangerous false content. Political social media posts should be treated as a starting point, with articles from trustworthy news sources providing the real information. They should never be treated as the completely factual final say in politics. As a younger generation starts to get interested in politics, it must be remembered that in the Internet age, healthy skepticism is a necessity.