Monday, September 3, 2012

On Being Informed

I usually avoid writing about politics because it is such an emotionally charged issue. But this sort of gets at the heart of the point I want to make, a point which came to a head on my Facebook page last night.

Because I was tired of seeing a bunch of ill-informed and evocative posts on politics (from both sides) when I log on to Facebook to see what my friends are up to, I asked a question-- "Has anyone ever changed their mind about who they intend to vote for because of a Facebook status update?" And I meant a status update, not an article posting, or a link to a video. I was actually and legitimately curious.

Within five minutes of posting it, I had an increasingly heated discussion, including a pseudo insinuation of racism. I didn't even ask about politics.And yet, even a simple, innocuous question caused an argument.

This scares me-- I don't think elections should be lowered to the tenor of a Jersey Shore episode (which is, perhaps, naive of me), and I feel like that is what all of the vitriol painting my Facebook wall is doing.   

I truly feel that the amount of information available to us, which exceeds that which voters have historically had access to, is both a luxury and a danger. The luxury part is fairly obvious-- we can know just about everything there is to know about our candidates.

So where is the danger? Well, it comes in three parts:
  • There is so much information that it is often overwhelming to even think about researching a candidate, and so I think maybe we often just accept what we hear "on the news."
  • Because we have so many options for what kind of news we want to watch/read, we have the unprecedented ability to filter out opinions other than our own. But when we select out of anything that might present a different opinion, I think it makes it really hard to make a truly informed decision.
  • We are hit with so much information that we all have lost a bit of our attention span. And so, it seems perfectly acceptable that a speech that lasted many minutes be summed up in three or four emotionally charged words. Heck, that's all I feel like I have space for in my brain sometimes. 
But combine those three things-- there is too much information so I look for the three word summary from the place I choose to get my information from because it aligns with my beliefs. Where is the healthy discourse in that? Where is the fact checking? Where is fully understanding who you are voting for and why?

I have no delusions that 20 years ago every voter was informed of every detail of every candidate. I don't believe that I am fully informed on every issue, and very much react emotionally to things without always checking my facts. And sometimes, the idea of seeking out information is exhausting because I am busy, and my mind is made up...

What I am proud of, though, is that I make a concerted effort to not post things on Facebook unless I am pretty damn sure they are true, whether in my status or as a response to someone. The fact that I usually try to avoid politics on Facebook helps with this.

Ultimately, my point is this-- I am proud and passionate liberal who sometimes watches Fox News to  broaden my understanding of how people are reacting to different issues. I'll admit that every time I watch Fox News, I end up yelling at the television. But I can't say it has never given me pause to think about something a different way then I did before. And I appreciate it when people post links to articles about things important to them so I can learn more if I choose.

I truly feel that, Republican or Democrat, we should all endeavor to be part of the well-informed party, which, to me, means reaching beyond the outlets that we have selected because they align well with our own political leanings. It most definitely means not accepting everything that a political commentator says, whether its someone we typically agree with or not.

I'm not saying anything new, and in fact am perhaps making a very trite point when you consider that I used Facebook as its basis. But seriously, people are spewing a lot of untrue stuff. It's hard not to get caught up in it and react. It is not hard to fact check what you post before you post it.


  1. I'd bet there hasn't been a truly informed electorate since the Roman senate, or possibly the Greeks before them.

    I don't believe in withholding the right to vote based on race, religion or economic status, but maybe a little geo-political pop quiz before you were allowed to flip the lever couldn't hurt? Identify three other states on the map, pick your local representative out of a photo line up, choose one world leader's name from a list. As it is, most of put about the same effort into choosing a candidate as ordering a pizza.

    1. While I instinnctively like the idea A LOT, I immediately go to "but who gets to decide what is on hat quiz?"

  2. Now I'm eating Cinnamon Toast Crunch! (or the organic equivalent, actually.)

  3. HERE, HERE!!!!!! Also, you lean a lot about people based on the FB statuses (and during an election or a crisis).

    1. Wow, can you. I saw two very rational, decent people come within three seconds of getting in a confrontation about race for no reason. Kind of scary! Thanks for visiting.

  4. Social media and the state of the so-called "unbiased" press make it very easy to make a decision without being truly informed.