It has been a while since I posted a legitimate political opinion on Facebook; I even went as far as deactivating my Facebook and Twitter for much of 2016 to avoid the temptation of social media politics.
Upon my return to my social media networks I made a few commitments:
- I won’t utilize a candidate or the character of a candidate in supporting or opposing an idea
- I won’t comment on active legislation passing or not passing as if it were a sport
- I won’t comment on another person’s political rant/post
- I avoid all “trending topics” or anything shared from a news page
What has been the result?
- I find myself involved less in pointless, painful comment debates
- I am far less concerned and aware of the hottest political stories and issues of the day
Many would (and have) suggested that my choice to be ignorant of national political turmoil is a mistake. I wholeheartedly disagree.
In The Black Swan, a book on the Fraternity Man Reading List, a study is described to explain the effects of one receiving too many bits of information.
Two groups are shown a blurry picture of a fire hydrant. Clearer versions of the hydrant are shown to each group to test which would recognize it as a fire hydrant first. One group’s image goes from blurry to full clarity in 10 slides, the other in 5 slides.
Even though the people in the 10-slide group were technically being given more detailed information, it took longer for them to discern that the object in the image was a fire hydrant than the 5-slide group.
What’s the point?
We place a lot of emphasis on being informed. The young folks call it “#woke.” Friends regularly talk down to or about those they feel do not pay attention to the news. It’s even worse if one pays attention to the “wrong” or “fake” news media sources. But the news we read tends to serve more as a play-by-play of who said what and which party has the best score in polls or passing legislation.
That isn’t being “informed,” that’s giving in to the gossip of the Washington elite.
Here are 3 reasons why ignorance is not only bliss, but a more effective way of becoming an activist:
Most Political News Focuses On Politicians & Character Development
Put simply, the vast majority of news media outlets are private, for-profit organizations or publicly funded organizations. In either case, there is an inherent bias toward the funder of such organizations (tax-funded organizations are biased toward the viability of tax-funded organizations for you PBS/NPR enthusiasts).
It is mind blowing that folks are so opposed to corporations spending unlimited sums of money on political advertising, but that we ignore private, for-profit media companies endorsing politicians and creating situations like the 2016 election, where Donald Trump spent roughly $0 in the primary and received the vast majority of media attention.
The fact of the matter is that news media is a form of reality television entertainment, which is why Donald Trump knew exactly how to work the media to his advantage. It plays up certain characters and media sources even compete with one another, suggesting that their competition is biased in a way that would hurt consumers.
These companies want names, “Rand Paul,” “Donald Trump,” “Hillary Clinton,” etc. to draw love or disdain from their viewers. Creating a story arc for each political “character” means that it doesn’t matter if I disagree with Hillary Clinton’s positions, I will want to click on a story about her because I need something to reaffirm why I like or dislike her.
That story will likely include a quote from an opponent of hers to keep it “balanced,” but the belief that allowing a Democrat and Republican to debate something makes a story “balanced” is ridiculous. It’s just there for the theatrical drama.
News for a news media company is a means to create entertainment, to give people on television something to talk and argue about in hopes that individuals viewing the content will stick around, add to the company’s ratings and earn them more profit for each advertisement slot sold.
News is simple. “This happened on this day and this is who was involved.”
It is not personal, it is not a part of an agenda, it doesn’t include commentary or opposing viewpoints.
Social Media Companies Play The Same Tricks To Drive Engagement
Many of you may have been “woke” to the fact that Facebook and Twitter were both deemed “dying” by the news media several years ago. Facebook launched a major initiative to compete with Google as the place people go to figure things out, and so they created trending news topics and targeted advertising based on what their users “liked” or “followed.”
Twitter has incorporated similar functionality. It’s why Instagram and Snapchat are so much more enjoyable, particularly for younger audiences. They come without the baggage of news, politics, or political rantings (Instagram is becoming suspect). They rely on the real value of social media: keeping up with your friends.
Instead, websites like Facebook encourage people to become “slacktivists” by sharing and commenting on news media content. Facebook even launched a “Townhall” feature, so they can track who you contact and slip stories into your newsfeed they know you’ll share.
Believe it or not there was a time where Facebook was not much more than Instagram and it was awesome. If I look at my “wall” from 2008, it is filled with friendly conversations with other friends. Most of us who were on Facebook in the 2000’s would find the same thing.
Now people are consumed with their personal celebrity. Everyone has an opinion, and the content is so readily available, it has become taboo to ignore it. . . even if that comes at the expense of some of one’s relationships. Wasn’t social media a way to facilitate our real-world relationships?
Focusing On National Figures Distracts Us From Change Within Our Reach
So we know that the news media cares less about informing us than they do entertaining us, and we know that social media’s attention to “activism” and real-time news is also a method to drive revenue.
Can one really be “informed” if they are simply reading what is designed to get profitable traffic to a website or television station? Dare I refer to political news as white-collar gossip columns? Yes, I do. Because Beyonce and Clint Eastwood are being taken seriously as activists.
I still maintain my beliefs, they still apply to national politics, and I’m still aware of what is going on. But being aware requires just a skim of the headlines. Do I really need to know what each senator said about Donald Trump’s most recent action? No. I need to know what the action was.
There is a saying that “All Politics is Local.” Let’s include “activism” into that statement.
All politics and all activism is local.
Instead of freaking out about these ridiculous scenarios and he-said-she-said arguments, I’ve chosen to focus on what I can actually take part in.
Simply put, my ability to affect national politics is related directly to my willingness to affect local politics. I may not like what is happening, but I’m in a better position if I help build a city or state immune to national crisis or unconstitutional laws than if I spend my time arguing on Facebook. That applies to my fraternity as well.
Entering my sixth year as a staff member for my fraternity, I reflected on what I hoped to do in the role I had. In theory, there was plenty I could do to benefit our students, but the reality was somewhat different. I recognized that students and alumni were facing the same internal predicament.
I would interact with hundreds of students, alumni and professionals from a variety of fraternities and sororities and almost all of them spoke of their concerns with their national organizations as they do about national politics: with a sense of helplessness.
There had to be a better way, and there is!
Fraternities and sororities are governing organizations, and perhaps exploring how we can make change within these organizations can create a unique opportunity to inspire a future generation of inspired, effective activists. For students, the fraternity/sorority experience should be the training ground toward integrity-driven leadership and citizenship.
Remember, “He who pays the piper calls the tune.” The funding mechanisms for fraternities, sororities, colleges, universities and foundations are students, their parents and alumni. As small as one may feel, our future is ours to decide.
Fraternities and sororities began to integrate when students overrode national policies and initiated black men or women into their chapters, forcing debates at Conventions across the country. Federal and state laws sealed the deal, but those movements were started and finished by students organizing and voting.
The first step is to become “informed.” I don’t mean going to read the news about your organization, I mean understanding how it operates. To facilitate that knowledge, we’ve created a page with the governing documents and tax filings for national fraternities, and hope to expand the list to include more organizations in the coming months.
Check it out and get involved and look forward to another post with insights as to how to become a fraternity activist!