Last week The Richfield Reaper received word Sen. Mitt Romney would be stopping in Richfield for a town hall meeting.
It was a surprise visit, and Sen. Romney is welcome anytime to make the drive to Richfield to listen to constituents.
However, when the announcement of Romney’s visit was posted on The Reaper’s social media, there were dozens of people making negative, disparaging and insulting comments about the senator.
Judging by what was posted on social media, one would think that Romney was going to be in for a very rough night of people screaming at him. Frankly, he was probably expecting it.
However, that’s not what happened. With a few exceptions, the tone of the night was civil. People generally didn’t talk over each other, and other than an accusation that Romney is a supporter of the leftist group Antifa, which he dismissed as false without hesitation, the questions and comments didn’t come across as personal.
Instead people asked questions about issues, some that according to Romney should belong in the arena of local government (such as schools and bullying), some wouldn’t likely get addressed anytime soon (deficit spending and term limits) and some where there is hope for positive change (healthcare costs and energy policy).
So where was the angry mob?
Thankfully civility was in much larger supply in person than it often is on social media.
Social media frequently creates an expectation that doesn’t sync up with reality. Too often people build up their perceptions of the world based on what they see on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
It’s become a huge problem in this country as it is contributing to the division of the nation.
Instead of getting their news from reliable sources, people are migrating to outlets that affirm political opinions. This is compounded as Internet algorithms are used to cater to one’s political leanings. People who read anti-Trump stories have smart phones and browsers with computer programs that seek out and populate news feeds with more anti-Trump stories. The same is true for those who read pro-Trump material. The same algorithms populate their newsfeeds, Youtube video suggestions and social media with similar material.
Many media outlets are responding to the commercial pressures of catering to one side as a way to garner more hits to feed financial interests as the moral obligation to report the news in an impartial manner is pushed aside.
However, it’s not the mass media’s fault as it is responding to what its audience demands.
It’s people and how they choose to use the information at their fingertips.
Commentary is often confused for reporting. Opinion pieces by Ben Shapiro, Chris Cuomo or Rush Limbaugh are often confused in people’s minds as being “the news” when really it’s just opinion, with facts that are selected in an almost surgical manner to push one agenda or another.
Many times things circulate on social media even on the local level that turn out not to be true.
Social media is a powerful tool, but for all the good it can do, it also does a lot of harm.
It can serve as an outlet for bullying. Studies have shown that it is a factor in increased levels of anxiety and depression in teens and adults.
The lesson is simple. Social media isn’t going anywhere, but people should be careful in how they use it, and realize most of what is posted on it is not reality.