Candidates have started seeking media attention, which means it’s time for you to start hating social media again.
It’s so hard not to take the bait.
This past weekend in Iowa, presumed Republican presidential contender Mike Huckabee fed a red meat line to a gathering of fundamentalist voters. “A beheading is more of a threat to Americans than a sunburn.”
Baiting Islamaphobia and dismissing the reality of climate change in a single zinger is wonderfully efficient, and Old Mike is just getting warmed up. His lines rile up the donors and snag press coverage.
The sunburn found its mark with me. I was immediately annoyed upon reading it. How are we still debating climate change? Are terrorist beheadings already an applause line? In less than a minute, my smart phone was on fire as I composed a witty Tweet calling Huckabee out for being an insensitive, pandering idiot.
I stopped before hitting send.
Here we are, 21 months before we cast our votes in the 2016 presidential election, and it’s already begun. Our social media newsfeeds soon will be cluttered with infuriating bait as candidates compete for base dollars and media mention.
Any day now, you’ll begin remembering which of your friends are Republican, Democrat, Crazy Republican, and Crazy Democrat. You’ll unfriend a few and unfollow many more.
We will start bitching about how political talk is ruining social media, particularly Facebook. We will begin poking holes in each other’s talking points, decrying liberal media bias, and talking about Supreme Court justices who might retire.
Someone will write the article, “The 10 Reasons This Will Be the Most Important Election of Your Lifetime.” Count on it.
The media will fan the flames, filling the 24/7 news cycle with every possible provocative statement about immigrants, gays, banks, guns, Islam, income inequality, and more. People will get fired up and share opinions on the outrage of the day.
As candidates surge and fall in the polls, we will share articles with salacious nuggets of gossip about their marriages, business dealings, college activities, and car elevators. Who is more out of touch with average Americans? Who loves the military more? Who won which of the 450 debates?
A foreign crisis will scare us. A movie will inspire us. Someone will make a sloppy comment about rape. There will be a damning fuzzy hidden camera video. Eventually, a candidate will have to defend a penis picture he sent to a campaign aide or a threesome he and his wife had at a Sandals resort.
It’s always something. That’s the game. Polls are no longer dependable. Few read local newspapers and opinion pages. The only way candidates get attention and donors is by creating buzz, and social media buzz is the new political engagement. Becoming an informed voter means a long combative comment thread with your brother-in-law. Engaging with a candidate means liking her Facebook page.
I’m already exhausted just thinking about it. A year off from that nonsense wasn’t enough. Surely, by summer, I’ll be contemplating the consequences of quitting Facebook—again. And again, I’ll keep my account active, swearing to spend less time looking at what others post.
As for my Huckabee Tweet? Deleted it. I realized that taking the bait added nothing to the world. It wouldn’t brighten a friend’s day, change a friend’s mind, or influence a single vote. My thimble of water would not put out the approaching forest fire. Mike would not earn my 140-character response today.
The break you’ve been enjoying on social media is nearly over. The insanity is coming. No one will be able to avoid it. However, we can control what we add to it. More importantly, each of us can control when we begin adding to it.
I pledged that I would not post any comments about presidential politics until at least Labor Day 2015. Hundreds of moments of political outrage will happen before then, and we’ll see if I can achieve the goal of keeping my unsolicited political opinions to myself that long.
It’s tough not to take the bait. The chances of me holding off that long are probably as slim as Huckabee’s chances of winning the nomination.
OK, I swear, that’s it until Labor Day.