Social Media Only Makes My Trump Angst Worse

Andrew Wallenstein
Variety

Blame Donald Trump winning the election on Facebook. That’s one of the theories circulating in the wake of the Republican candidate’s stunning victory.

Mark Zuckerberg has had to fend off allegations Facebook algorithms conspire to cocoon each user inside a “filter bubble,” surrounding Trump supporters with information and opinions that rarely challenge their worldview, including too many fake news reports that often fail to get debunked.

But the Clinton-supporter filter bubble has its own vulnerability, so much so that it has me seriously re-examining how much time I spend nowadays on Facebook and Twitter.

As the intensity of the campaigning exhausted us all in the weeks leading up to the election, I clung to hopes of seeing the political content that seemed to comprise maybe 20% of my social-media feeds a year ago start to subside from the 90%-ish levels of November. But now that the presidency has been decided, Trump’s ubiquity on Facebook and Twitter hasn’t abated one iota, transforming my filter bubble into a deafening echo chamber.

The endless exhortations to vote in the first days of this month have been replaced with heartfelt first-person rants against Trump, coverage of the new president’s every move, and ceaseless speculation about every move he has yet to make. It’s probably going to stay in hyper-vigilance mode for a very long time.

There’s good reason for that. For Clinton supporters, life simply isn’t as carefree as it was before. The trivialities that once dominated social media have less traction at a time when Trump’s detractors feel a sense of crisis.

But forgive me for being nostalgic  for the days when social media functioned as a fun diversion from everyday concerns; It wasn’t that long ago my most pressing problem was figuring out which color that amorphously hued blue/gold/black/white dress was.

“Election is over,” an old friend of mine posted last week on her Facebook page. “Can we resume normal posts of cute kids, animals and the occasional political article. PLEASE.”

Politics was just one of many interests reflected in my feed. Now Trump has crowded out almost everything else.

If only it were simple as un-friending or muting the worst offenders in my feed. But it’s hard to weed out those connected to me that offend my delicate sensibilities most when literally everyone I know has gotten too political on social media.

Most of the people in the network I chose to link up to for reasons that have nothing to do with politics, but now that’s all they talk about online. And some, to put it kindly, aren’t as knowledgeable as others.

It’s like I’ve been invited to a gathering in which every other guest has become Girl You Wish You Hadn’t Started a Conversation With At a Party, Cecily Strong’s hilariously annoying “Saturday Night Live” character.

Oh, for the days when politics was just a faint hum in the background of my life, the volume to which I could turn up or down at my whim. Now it’s been cranked up to 11, and numbers 1 through 10 have been permanently removed.

You might be thinking that if I wasn’t a white male, I would have a greater capacity for all the Trump angst because his policies would have a bigger impact on my life.  But make no mistake: I am absolutely terrified by what Trump means for the future of this country. However, there is also a limit to how much of the average day I can be terrified by social media and still remain sane.

That may sound like I’m working my way down the slippery slope toward being in denial; that if I am not actively steeping myself in the reality of the Trump nightmare every waking minute, that I become part of the problem.

But while some may appreciate the opportunity to constantly commiserate among likeminded Trump antagonistes, their anxiety compounds my own. I feel claustrophobic inside my filter bubble.

Social media should be credited for providing a steady stream of timely, relevant information and a community with which that information can be shared. And maybe Twitter and Facebook simply hold up a mirror to a group of people in crisis, and my objection is like taking issue with the reflection staring back at me.

But the mirror metaphor strikes me as an oversimplification. Compare the way that concerns would have been meted out in an earlier era —  at dinner tables, barstools and watercoolers — to the machine-gun fusillade that social media can be now. If you want to take cover, you have to un-friend and mute with impunity; It’s not like social feeds come with a Trump dimmer switch (though Twitter’s new filtering tools are at least a step in the right direction). At least on TV, you can turn the channel.

For those who don’t mind being up to their eyeballs in politics 24/7, I truly respect your stamina. But If you don’t pace yourself, you run the risk of getting burnt out regarding something about which you care deeply. It might be worth considering that the only difference between you and me is the passage of time.

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