Un-friending people you disagree with widens the digital divide

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Few people in the history of American politics have been as divisive as President Trump.

As an opinionated, college-educated, liberal millennial, nothing launches me into a flying rage more than seeing ignorant and ill-informed politics strewn across my social media feed.

I leave cryptic and passive aggressive messages directed at very specific people; I invite them to join the unbearably mundane farming simulator known as FarmVille about a thousand times in one afternoon. I also grammatically correct them.

The simpler solution would be to unfriend these people, removing their virtual presence entirely, but I refuse to — and so should you.

For a while, I saw the politics of social media as a lawless wasteland where my political enemies were an unruly bunch of bandits, and I was a young, strapping Clint Eastwood gunning them down with my witty political commentary. But alas, no matter how clever I think I am, I still dream of the day that I hear the words “You are right.”

Political debate on social media hardly ever ends with clear winners and losers, only flared nostrils and bruised egos.

The problem with social media is that it isn’t really social. Sure, we can stay informed about the lives of loved ones and correspond with people thousands of miles away, but when conversations take place behind the mask of a computer monitor, it reduces face-to-face conversations to palatable texts that eliminate the humanity of conversing altogether.

Take the time to scroll through any comments section of YouTube, or Twitter, or Philly.com,  and you’ll find some of the most malicious and mean-spirited comments imaginable.

Every passing scandal seems to cause more polarization. There seem to be clear divides: Democrats versus Republicans, us versus them. Each side failed to step into the shoes of the other, and social media only made that worse.

The day after the presidential election, I remember talking to one of my friends who said that she had purged her Facebook account of people who supported Trump’s presidency. She considers her social media feed to be a source of enjoyment rather than an additional source of stress in her already demanding life. At the end of the day, all she wants to do is watch baby panda videos and melt into a puddle of pure joy.

She has a point. The irony of these virtual encounters is that these people are considered our “friends,” which begs the question: why don’t I just un-friend them? If what they say bothers me so much, why don’t I just eliminate their virtual presence altogether?

Because when we decide to eliminate these voices from our lives, we are actively becoming part of the problem. Shouldn’t we consider the views of others valid enough to have the courtesy of recognizing them.

The nation has never been more politically divided, and eliminating differing political views only makes one’s political echo chamber even smaller.

Although we might consider their views to be misguided, perhaps even wrong, we cannot pretend to think that their thoughts, fears, and aspirations are less valid than our own.

I’m not saying you should condone views you disagree with, actually the opposite. Use social media as a platform for rigorous debate.

I look forward to digital political battles, because no matter how much I might despise the views of the person on the other monitor, I can respect them.

James Meadows is a University of Pennsylvania student interning with Philadelphia Media Network.