The ‘Trump Effect’: How Social Media Censorship Undermines Liberalism
It has always happened here and there, though during the past year of heightened political tensions in the US, it has become a point of pride to delete friends and followers on social media for their viewpoints concerning the candidates and the issues surrounding the 2016 election.
Albeit, if you’re older and you copped your Facebook handle during those days when only college students were added via their schools “network”, you probably have a lot of friends reaching back at least a decade whom you’ve added based on high school friendships that were much more recent memories all those years ago.
People were still relevant. People were still funny. But we age and our minds change, and with that we begin to see that at the age of 16, surrounded by the same faces since kindergarten, our teenage skills of judging character kind of sucked. It’s understandable that some people slip through the cracks, and get deleted in the early hours of the morning.
There will always be reasons to delete people from Facebook and remove them from our real lives, too. This whole social networking thing, which has gifted the world with increasingly accessible communication to all other parts of the planet, is a developing high point in the human experiment.
Despite this, the “Trump Effect” has swept through Facebook and other social media platforms like a plague. A growing and gloating mass of intended voters are proclaiming, as a point of pride, that they’ve had too much of someone, and that someone’s stream of consciousness—so often unfiltered via Facebook and Twitter posts—has been officially unfriended. It’s what the social networking world might have looked like if Mario Kart had been created in 2012 as opposed to 1992. Nothing in the 90s did, or could have, exposed us so early to the proclivities among “friends” for being rat-bastards worthy of frothy-mouthed discontent.
Personally, I’m more connected with people on social media who espouse similar views to my own. Outside of that, though, I interact with many who do not. It’s safe to say that while my position with Contemptor is both accepted and appreciated, I stand far to the left of the site’s unofficial narrative.
While I’ve witnessed many people on Facebook delete their more conservative friends, I should stress that this is not a one-way street. I’ve been deleted myself by numerous friends with right-leaning political views over the years. And that’s fine. I still talk to them when I see them and will continue to do so.
But when I see friends with closer political leanings to my own do it, it stings a little. The Left is supposed to be more open. This is the supposition of many when they berate abstract categories of the other side of the aisle. It doesn’t seem the Left is as enlightened or intellectual as it likes to think.
There are, of course, moments when people of color witness thinly-veiled racism and choose to disassociate. I can’t speak to that, so I won’t. But I do reserve a space in my mind that acknowledges it. For myself, and the majority of the US, witnessing racism is a very different experience. I’ve spoken to it, I’ve attacked it and I’ve organized around it, but I’m never going to understand it the way others do. How they choose to respond is up to them.
Ultimately, the way any single individual chooses to respond to another individual is entirely up to them. I take issue with what has developed into a culture of automatic response—especially among white liberals. Again, I interact with white liberals the most in my social networks. Turns out that, while antifascists and anticapitalists are represented online far more than in real life (in my life), they still remain a small percentage of my contacts and friends.
I feel comfortable assuming that white liberals should be able to tolerate the shit they see because they haven’t really been affected by the policies that have demeaned minority groups over the centuries. Thus, it’s a bit privileged to just brush aside what bothers you on something like a Facebook newsfeed. If you happen to be, however, Black, Jewish, Muslim, female or any one of the targets of the Alt Right, which Trump’s wake has pulled into the mainstream, you don’t have it as easy. Maybe you can learn to ignore something unpleasant, but how long will we ignore those who can’t blend as easily into America’s white crowds?
An untold number of people have died with the n-word being the last thing that they ever heard. People have died for being gay. For being trans. But our political viewpoints are malleable to a certain extent. I even voted for a Democrat once, though I doubt I’m ever going to accept Ludwig von Mises as my lord and savior (emphasis on lord). That said, our country has a shameful history regarding the repression of communists and anarchists.
There’s another issue at play, too. That of censorship. I am ardently opposed to it, with reasonable restrictions. But this shouldn’t be conflated with the criticisms aimed at people proclaiming to be offended by this and that. There is no side of the political spectrum that has a monopoly on being offended. Sixty years ago, black people drinking out of the wrong water fountain offended plenty of true-blue patriots. A child singing My Country ‘Tis of Thee in Spanish is also offensive to the same lot who like to point and laugh at those who feel that grabbing a woman’s pussy is just locker room talk.
George Carlin, who I have derived far too much of my perspective from, recorded a bit before the 9/11 attacks that was only recently released because it was believed that nobody at the time could have handled it. And that’s the creeping direction I see so many like-minded people going. My own political consciousness really began developing during the period when the Clear Channel memorandum was a real thing, suggesting that certain songs should not be played in a post-9/11 America. A time when our right to speak openly and freely had been fundamentally changed, wholesale, by the USA PATRIOT Act.
Issues of speech matter. Not all free speech is worthy of listening to—the Klan rally that gets disrupted by community members, whether it’s in South Carolina, Anaheim or wherever, certainly won’t find a sympathetic ear from me—but it’s part of the messy process of free speech. Locking ourselves into echo chambers is a foolish idea. We restrict our ability to ferment nuanced, tuned responses. And while safe spaces are useful, we shouldn’t seek to turn our political consciousnesses into safe spaces.
If liberals and left-leaning individuals want to be allies, and want to help push back against the cultural shifts that will remain after the election—Trump presidency or not—then we shouldn’t abandon vulnerable populations on the front lines.
There is more room to speak out against what you find offensive, demeaning or dangerous than there is pride in shutting it out of your life completely. So, perhaps that’s a more useful course of action.
Speak up. Call people out. Challenge ideas. Challenge, challenge, challenge. Because retreating only cedes ground to the opposition.