Social Media Manipulates Politics

J.P. Ward III

Storming of the Capitol Building in Washington, DC

In How to do Nothing, Odell discusses ideas such as treatment of our environment, social media influence, and politics. Specifically, how social media has the ability to influence politicians’ agenda in terms of things that they want or policies that they want to be passed. Some current examples that work well with Odell’s thoughts are the policies that affect the environment and the storming of the Capitol Building. I think that these ideas mesh well with her discussion of how social media has the ability to influence people on the grounds of politics. This also has to do with Odell’s discussion of the environment, as that is a major political issue.

With the idea behind discussing the environment, I enjoyed how Odell talks about the idea of everything being alive and connected through the environment. This idea, although newly introduced, gave me a new perspective and a new way of thinking about the interactions between people and the world we live in. This idea also can be tied to Odell’s discussion of politics and how politicians can have a positive or negative effect on our environment through the policies that they support.

“It was no stretch of the imagination, nor even science, to think that we were related. We are both from the same place (Earth), made of the same stuff. And most important, we are both alive”(143).

I like this quote by Odell because I feel that it hits a point that she was trying to get across to the reader, and that point is that everything in this world is connected. She is referring to the sparrow, and even though humans and birds are not related in any sort of conventional way, she argues that because we are all from the same place that we are connected through that. This quote also can apply to human relationships as well.

Another quote by Odell that ties into the idea of everything being connected is when she visits the Rose Garden.

“I’ve always found the phrase ‘alone in nature’ to be a humorous oxymoron, an utter impossibility. When the garden is empty of people, I still consider it a social place where I spend time with jays, ravens, dark-eyed juncos, hawks, turkeys, dragonflies, butterflies, not to mention the oaks, the redwoods, the buckeyes, and the roses themselves”(142).

Although somewhat repetitive, the long list that Odell provides shows that even though she is alone from human beings, she is not alone in the sense that there are so many other things that are alive and living in the same world as us. All it takes to realize that fact is paying attention to the world around you.

I also like how Odell introduces this idea involved with the ecological study. She makes reference to Kimmerer’s study of sweetgrass, and how it “was suffering not from over-harvesting but from under-harvesting… a specific part of human attention, use, and stewardship had become environmental factors on which the plants depended on, and without these things, they’ve begun to disappear”(147).

When I think about a species struggling, I tend to think it is because humans are over-consuming a part of that species through hunting or harvesting practices. I think of deforestation and industrialization and how devastating they can be to our environment. However, this example is just the opposite and it relates to Odell’s message of attention. If humans paid more attention to the sweetgrass, it would not be struggling to grow and reproduce. The bigger picture is that humans in general have begun to pay less attention to the environment, and as a result, the environment has struggled. With massive amounts of pollution and unethical practices, our world has begun to deteriorate because we have failed to pay attention to and care for our environment.

Transitioning into the discussion of social media, and how that relates to the environment, I think it is important to talk about how specific policies and politicians influence the environment through the bills and legislation that they pass. Public perception of politicians and the laws that they pass plays a critical role in whether or not politicians gain support to pass a bill. Social media is an important tool that politicians can use in order to gain support for the laws about the environment that they have passed.

An example of this is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a congresswoman from New York, uses social media as a platform to inform people about current events. In the tweet that I was able to find, she posted a video of herself giving a speech regarding herself reintroducing the Green New Deal. In this speech, she is quoted as saying “The climate crisis is a crisis born of injustice and it is a crisis born of the pursuit of profit at any and all human and ecological cost.”

Using social media in this way is not problematic, however, it does show that politicians do have the ability to post, inform, and potentially influence public opinion about what they say. For example, I may be a supporter of hers who does not know a lot about the environment or this new deal that she is talking about. Because I am a supporter of hers, I would automatically take her stance on this issue even though I do not know anything about it myself. This just speaks to the influence social media can have when used by our public officials.

This is not the only example of this, as thousands of politicians use social media to broadcast their opinions and let the public know about current events that are happening. I do however think that noticing this and paying attention to it is important when it comes to forming your own opinions on political issues. I think that it is crucial for people to think for themselves and to become an independent citizens, as that is an American ideology that has been talked about since our nation’s founding. Forming your own opinions also does not allow for the media to divide us by playing on our emotions by reporting extremely polarizing issues. This divide among American people does happen, however, and it can affect simple aspects of our lives.

A major source of division among people is the influence that social media has on our beliefs, values, and judgments. The media in the past couple of years has strayed from just reporting the news into massive corporations driven only by profits. Sometimes I feel that humans are constantly at war with one another, arguing over issues that have no relevance in the grand scheme of things. One of these issues that I have experienced first hand in my life has been the discussion of politics. Throughout my years of going to school, I have been a part of many classes and conversations that had to do with past and current political issues in both the United States and in other nations. These discussions tend to get pretty intense, as many people have strong opinions on a variety of different issues on both sides of the aisle. However, I have noticed that when having these discussions they have the potential to get out of hand and turn into a screaming match rather than a political discussion. It’s almost as if we dehumanize people based on their beliefs, especially if that belief that they hold is different from our own. I think that if we want to progress as a society, we need to realize that most people want what is best for humanity and understand that we are all human beings in the end despite our differences and opinions. I realize that this may be somewhat of a naive view of the world, as we cannot expect people to be so accepting and open to new ideas all of the sudden after years of rejecting new ideas. But I do think that there is something to be said for trying to understand where the other person is coming from when having a politically charged conversation. Instead of just shutting down and completely ignoring what the other person is arguing, see if you can comprehend why they have that position. Even if you disagree with what they are saying, at least we have added the human element back into our thought process, as you may be able to see where they are coming from in some way. It’s a two-way street when having these conversations, and the other person may not reciprocate the same level of headedness when talking about hot button issues. The discussion of issues in a clear way, where everyone is heard no matter what they believe, I think is a step in the right direction for all people.

All of these dividing factors allow for the media to play on our emotions, as the only thing they are trying to do is grab your attention and influence you to think a certain way or perform a specific action. I think that this vulnerability is something that President Trump used to his advantage when talking about this past Presidential Election through his tweets.

On January 6th, 2021, supporters of former President Donald Trump stormed the Capitol Building in Washington D.C. The angry mob was able to break into and loot many of the buildings in the Capitol Complex, and they were forced to lock down and evacuate those buildings. This riot left over one hundred people injured, and five people were killed. The reason for this riot was because people on the radical right side of the political spectrum believed that the 2020 Presidential Election had been stolen from them. Why was that idea planted in their heads? In short, social media.

President Trump used his massive social media following, specifically Twitter, to influence people to riot and destroy areas of Washington, D.C. By using his platform on social media, he was able to reach a larger audience that he would not have been able to otherwise.

President Trump tweeted things such as, “We are up big, but they are trying to STEAL the Election. We will never let them do it. Votes cannot be cast after the Polls are closed.” And, “Doing a great job in Georgia. Their recount is a scam, means nothing. Must see fraudulent signatures which is prohibited by stupidly signed and unconstitutional consent decree.”

With somebody as powerful as a United States president Tweeting and knowingly making claims that would cause a rally among his most radical supporters demonstrates the overall influence that social media can have on society. President Trump has such a large following and on social media, and by posting something online, was able to generate acts of violence directed at those who opposed him, which were members of the government from the democratic party. He was able to wield a great amount of influence and power that he would not have otherwise been able to use without social media. Social media allowed President Trump to reach millions of people in a matter of seconds. Those people who stormed the capitol saw what President Trump had said, and felt strongly enough to commit acts of violence in our nation’s capital. This demonstrates the volatility of social media, and when put in the wrong hands, can be a dangerous weapon for anyone with a smartphone. This ties into Odell’s discussion of how social media can play a huge role in not only our lives but the attention economy as a whole.

According to Allison Holman, a professor at the University of California, Irvine and an expert in Psychological Trauma, “It turns out that news coverage is far more than a benign source of facts. From our attitudes to immigrants to the content of our dreams, it can sneak into our subconscious and meddle with our lives in surprising ways. It can lead us to miscalculate certain risks, shape our views of foreign countries, and possibly influence the health of entire economies. It can increase our risk of developing post-traumatic stress, anxiety, and depression. Now there’s emerging evidence that the emotional fallout of news coverage can even affect our physical health — increasing our chances of having a heart attack or developing health problems years later.”

I also think that the media plays a big influence on what to believe by always taking a firm stance on an issue that polarizes the public. It seems as if today that the news is never just given in terms of facts, but rather there is always some sort of spin put on it depending on the news network providing that news. For example, if CNN puts out a news story they may try and put an emphasis on the liberal point of view as the correct point of view. The same goes for a news outlet like Fox News; they would try to be a more conservative spin on whatever the story is. The point of all of this is that the news media in our world today can have an impact on how people view politics and politicians. If a powerful news media outlet frames someone or something in a negative light, people will believe what they are told and view that with a negative light.

Mainly in the last chapter of her book, Odell talks about social media and how it plays such a large role in our lives. If politicians use social media the right way, they can have even more influence than they already have. I think that this role is too large, as we tend to blindly follow and believe everything that it has to offer. People are able to be influenced to believe certain things and commit certain actions because of how many people the mass media is able to reach in a small amount of time. By discussing politics and the environment, Odell made me realize how big of a role mass media plays in our everyday lives.

Works Cited

“The 65 days that led to chaos at the Capitol” by Shayan Sardarizadeh and Jessica Lussenhop, BBC News, January 10th 2021

“B. F. Skinner.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 7 Apr. 2021, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/B._F._Skinner.

Odell, Jenny. How to Do Nothing. Brooklyn: Melville, 2019.

“The storming of Capitol Hill was organized on social media” by Sheera Frenkel, The New York Times, January 6th 2021

https://twitter.com/RBReich/status/1384561364857806848

Twitter, Tweeted by Robert Reich reposted by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, April 20th 2021

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2021_storming_of_the_United_States_Capitol

“2021 storming of the United States Capitol” by Wikipedia contributors, Wikipedia, Date of last revision: 12 May 2021

Photo:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2021_storming_of_the_United_States_Capitol#/media/File:2021_storming_of_the_United_States_Capitol_09_(cropped).jpg