Let’s talk about millennials. Sure, we can’t paint an entire generation with a broad brush. Some are deeply conservative, some deeply liberal. Some are traditional, others much more progressive. But we have some things in common. We want to get involved in the political discussion. We are full of energy. We are highly tech-savvy. And we, much like the generation prior, want to become agents of change. We want to make our voices heard. There is one unavoidable certainty: we are getting older. And one day this country will be ours.
We want our voices to be heard. And who doesn’t? We have opinions, just as Gen-Xers have opinions, just as the generation before them and so on and so forth. The right to have, to express, and to debate opinions is a privilege afforded us by our founding fathers. It’s a beautiful privilege. And just as much as peoples’ opinions have outraged and puzzled me, they have shown me new perspectives and opened new doors in developing the way I think about issues.
Social media has opened up a new twist on sharing opinions, and it starts, quite literally, with the Share button. Websites of all natures, from network news stations like CNN and Fox to the Huffington Post, serve up buffets of biased articles, all for the immediate consumption of their many subscribers. Additionally, sites like “Conservative Daily” and “Occupy Democrats” offer an assortment of articles, infographics, and memes for their single-minded consumers. Herein lies the abomination of free thought. When reading posts and seeing pictures, most of which are distorted in the interest of the author, readers have the option of the “easy button,” which allows them to share these articles with their followers without offering a word of their own thoughts. The sharers are commonly repeat offenders who – just as they have their own fan base – rarely face disagreements or disputes. Just like in the articles themselves, the sharers usually enjoy a comment section filled with dialogue supporting their stance and rarely opening up the floor for debate.
I don’t have a huge problem with these articles, despite their bias. Most are politically left or right, depending on the author’s vantage point, and I accept that. And most do use facts (however distorted) to back up their opinions. Also appropriate. After all, a large part of free speech is the ability to express one’s opinion; it’s the same reason newspapers have an “Editorial” section.
My problem is with the online world which social media users, many of whom are millennials, have created. Facebook transitioned from a playground of engagements and accomplishments to a landfill of political propaganda. It has stripped us of our opinions because we are so busy sharing the opinions of others, and receiving back pats from our fellow followers. Serious thought gives way to headlines and teasers, beckoning me to take the bait and I click. I’m guilty. But I can’t help but think there is a better way. I want to read the thoughts and the revelations of my fellow millennials. I want to know why people are voting or abstaining, how people feel about the system, what people think about the biggest domestic and foreign issues. I want to know the issues and where the candidates stand, and instead get an overload of dirty laundry and scandals. When I read a shared article that bluntly exposes someone’s opinion – without a word of their own – I gain nothing. Not only do I learn nothing, but I become turned off to this person’s position on politics and other issues because they are hiding behind a wall of aggressive rhetoric. We can brush this off by saying, “That’s just politics.” But does it have to be?
It is worth noting that, in my opinion, in-person dialogue is still the most preferential form of political discourse. My displeasure towards sharing articles versus posting one’s own opinion is more of a “lesser of two evils” argument. But we live in a world where the internet is a dominant force, especially in the spread of current events, and I use and overuse the internet. I’m excited about the future, but I know that change is necessary. I want thoughtful, progressive dialogue about politics and about controversial topics in America and around our world. And we millennials will be a majority one day, and will have the means to change at our fingertips. At our fingertips we also have the share button. Let’s make the right choice.