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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman


The partisan politics of social media

Bernie Sanders, above, is one of the two presidential candidates left fighting for the Democratic nomination. PHOTO CREDIT: GAGE SKIDMORE/FLICKR

Hillary Clinton is in bed with Goldman Sachs. Hillary Clinton supported the coup in Honduras. Hillary Clinton is a liar and a political opportunist. Hillary Clinton believes that young black people are superpredators. These are some of the assertions I am assaulted with on a daily basis when I pull up my news feed on Facebook.

This is in stark contrast with the posts I see about her primary opponent: Bernie Sanders cares about the working class; Bernie Sanders is going to overturn Citizens United; Bernie Sanders is going to rein in the excesses of Wall Street; Bernie Sanders is going to expand access to healthcare and higher education.

I know that I have friends who support Clinton, but during this Democratic primary, the Sanders supporters are the ones sharing voluminous information. And it is not just Facebook. I’m on Reddit too, and /r/politics might as well be /r/sandersforpresident.

For many of my friends who feel the Bern, this presidential election is about so much more than just picking the best candidate. This is a story of their hero. People of my generation feel disillusioned with the political process. They think it is broken and it does not represent their interests. Supporting Sanders, to them, is part of the principled stance that we must take back the country from the economic elite who dominate it. Sanders, to them, is the candidate who can restore what is good about democracy.

This narrative has its costs. I often feel that my friends are caught in a social media echo chamber, in a desperate frenzy to talk about all the great things Bernie will do. This echo chamber is contagious. Nearly everything I read is one-sided: Clinton is the epitome of what Sanders is trying to defeat, and thus everything about her must be viewed in a negative light. This establishes an enormous potential for bias in support of Sanders.

Hillary Clinton, above, is one of the two presidential candidates left fighting for the Democratic nomination. PHOTO CREDIT: SEVEN DAYS US

When the bulk of what one encounters casts one candidate positively and others negatively, it is challenging to maintain a dispassionate view about who to support — even for those such as myself who already regularly pay attention to the political process. My friends do not merely support Sanders. They identify with him and what he is fighting for. Therefore, I feel a constant pull to do the same — a pull that has little to do with whether he would truly be the best president.

I caution against forming your opinion inside of this echo chamber. It is not truly possible to form an unbiased opinion about the candidates in this environment. Different sources will have different takes on political subjects and it is wise to seek out opinions from all angles, so that the individual biases can in some sense be averaged out. If the biases don’t average out, can you really trust what you believe?

Sanders supporters often argue that the establishment media is heavily biased in favor of Clinton, the establishment candidate. It certainly seems to be the case that Clinton gets a boost from the fact that these news sources have long treated her as the nominee-to-be. So does the bias I see from my friends counteract the bias from The New York Times?

Not quite. I don’t personally know anyone at the Times. It costs me no mental willpower to disregard their beliefs. But I do have lots of friends, and those friends overwhelmingly lean towards Sanders. Even expressing a positive opinion about Clinton seems like it is committing treason, like I am not being true to my peers. Worse, it feels like I must be wrong. How could I believe something that so many of my friends obviously don’t?

I have felt this way constantly during primary season, and it has made me extremely uncertain about my feelings for who to vote for. Voting for Sanders could just be me subconsciously bending to peer pressure. Voting for Clinton could just be me subconsciously overcompensating for it.

The only thing I am sure of in this election is that I wish everyone I know would be a little bit more willing to talk about why they might be wrong.

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