Freedom of tweets: politics in a social media era

Social media became a power player in the recent election. 
Photo by Jenny Rigney

Social media became a power player in the recent election. Photo by Jenny Rigney

Media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook may not have been intended to be included in the penumbra the First Amendment covers, but social media has found its place as a platform for sharing and embracing opinions.

Twitter said, in a press release prior to the election, it recorded more than one billion tweets related to the campaigns.

“It [Twitter] just requires people to listen, whether they care about my opinion or not,” Oklahoma Christian University senior Morgan Cocklin said.

Cocklin said because of Twitter’s updated algorithm, it becomes easier for viewpoints to be spread to multiple users, regardless if they are following her or not.

“Think of all of the times people have been retweeted onto your timeline,” Cocklin said. “Or so-and-so favorited this person’s tweet and you’re forced to look at it and clear the notification, so it gets out there.”

The Public Religion Research Institute said 13 percent of Americans blocked, unfriended or stopped following someone on social media because of what they posted about politics.

Senior Laura Shodall said a woman once blocked her on Facebook whom she formerly went to church with.

“I got in a disagreement on Facebook with a 56-year-old woman over transgender issues,” Shodall said. “We got in a huge blowout because she told me I was too young to understand everything, and that when I grew up I would realize what I was supposed to be thinking.”

Shodall said while she could not control the blowout which resulted in the disagreement of opinions, she believed the issue was important and she needed to contribute to the conversation.

“She ended the whole thing by saying, ‘You’re blocked and you’re awful,’” Shodall said.

Shodall said she has blocked people — even students from Oklahoma Christian — on social media because of different views.

“I will only cut myself off from someone at OC if what they’re saying is disrespecting a human being’s right to be respected,” Shodall said. “I feel like blocking them isn’t not being able to handle dissenting opinions because I hear them every day, but it’s only when I feel like they’re really being harmful. I don’t need that on my timeline.”

Senior Sean Steele said he also has blocked someone on social media because of political reasons, but more for riddance of toxicity than disagreement.

“It is OK to think differently than someone,” Steele said. “Intentions matter. When people make a matter personal, you’ve lost the conversation. When discussions turn to name calling or hateful speech, it’s toxic and not worth the time or emotional investment.”

For senior Andrea Ochoa, political issues can easily become personal.

“I think I have kind of a particular standpoint being a musician, and being an artist, and then also being a woman, being a minority, being in college — there’s a lot of points of view that I may have that other people may not have,” Ochoa said.

Ochoa said while she has an opinion on many subjects, it’s important to her to feel confident in what she expresses and why she expresses it.

“I think it’s really important before you post anything that you really do your research, and that you figure out why you have an opinion,” Ochoa said. “I really never post anything without taking a step back and saying, ‘OK, does this actually need to be put on the internet? Is this actually relevant? Is this actually important to me? Is this actually true?’”

Freshman Justin McLeckie said he also puts a priority on research before sharing an opinion, and hopes other do the same.

“If you have an opinion and it’s informed, you should share it,” McLeckie said. “But there’s some people’s opinions that don’t need to be out there because they don’t have a clue what they’re talking about.”

Cocklin said she learned it can be difficult to keep political conversations civil, but it comes down to self-control and self-awareness of the words and language people use.

“It’s important to take your stance, whether it’s on one side of the argument or the other,” Cocklin said. “As long as you’re talking, it gets more people involved. You can disagree with someone, but when you start attacking someone because their beliefs are different than your own that’s when things get ugly and messy.”

Shodall said the roles can be reversed, and while she is not prone to avoiding others’ offensive comments, she is aware of the damage her own opinion can bring.

“I’ve learned how to put my opinion out there respectfully,” Shodall said. “If someone disagrees with me, I’m still working on the respectful banter part, but I will get really heated if it’s something important to me.”

Ochoa said she enjoys seeing other people’s opposing viewpoints because of the reasons why people believe what they believe, but she does worry about her own opinion offending someone else.

“I try not to post things that start an argument unless they’re really important,” Ochoa said. “If I really feel like something has to be said, then I will. Sometimes it’s worth it, but sometimes it’s not.”

Steele said his intentions are never to offend someone, but to explain an opposing point of view on a subject.

“That’s not me coddling people, but me taking the responsibility to speak in a way that sparks healthy conversation,” Steele said. “If people choose to be offended because their beliefs don’t line up with mine that is their problem.”

Steele said he tries to encourage others to take a stand on important issues and voice their opinions via social media, regardless of how other opinions might line up with theirs.

“I always encourage people to be vocal if they feel the need,” Steele said. “Some people use social media for other things and that is just fine and dandy. However, I don’t want to look back later in life and know that I was silent in the face of fear and oppression.”

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