Most politicians – like lots of other people – have a love/hate relationship with social media.
They understand the value of social media, and they know they need to use it effectively, but they really would rather not bother with it.
Well, maybe except Pres. Trump, who loves Twitter as a way to bypass the news media and communicate directly to his loyal followers -- and irritate his adversaries.
But even Trump doesn’t fully use the capabilities of society media. He obviously doesn’t respond to the millions of replies and comments his posts generate. Most politicians use social media like Trump does – as a one-way channel to push out their opinions and insights.
One Utah politician who is very active with social media, and who does engage in back-and-forth conversations with friends and foes, is State Sen. Todd Weiler. He’s an attorney, represents mostly southern Davis County, and is in the middle of his second four-year term.
He frequently posts to Facebook and Twitter, but unlike most politicians, he sometimes responds to comments and replies, frequently in some depth and detail.
I admire Weiler for being willing to participate in these “conservations.” Personally, I find social media to usually be so toxic and nonsensical that I figure I have better things to do with my time and energy than argue on-line with weird people I don’t know.
Social media, especially Facebook and Twitter, provide a voice for fringe people from the dark corners of society. These folks are impossible to reason with, to carry on an intelligent conversation with, or even to agree to disagree with. They don’t represent the reasonable majority.
I wouldn’t engage with such rude and crude people on the street, so why should I provide a forum for them on social media?
Weiler doesn’t entirely disagree with my bad attitude; he sometimes wonders why he engages so much and he questions whether it’s worth the time and effort.
But, to his credit, he’s willing to mix it up, in a nice way, with the trolls on social media. For example, the right-wing out-of-state group Americans for Prosperity sent a mailer to his voters attacking him for voting in favor of three bills the group disliked.
The debate obviously got on social media and Weiler wrote a lengthy post in response to Facebook critics explaining in some detail (623 words) why he voted for the legislation.
(By the way, I don’t understand why a supposed national conservative group would open an office in Utah to attack conservatives. Why don’t they spend their time attacking liberals?)
Weiler told me he participates in social media debates because, “My core belief is that I should be accountable and accessible.” But he also reflects that, “The political climate is so nasty nationally and locally that I’ve turned myself into a punching bag. I look at my colleagues who don’t engage and wonder why I do it.”
He likes to dig deep on issues, but he doesn’t know if his intelligent, persuasive arguments help disarm the trolls. In social media, nuance is usually missing, but Weiler takes the opportunity to explain the details.
Weiler thinks that social media enables citizens to hold politicians more accountable, but he questions whether it really helps the political process. And he agrees it gives the cranks a much larger voice than their actual numbers warrant. It is not a good measure of public opinion. Anyone getting all their news and information from social media is getting a skewed view of the community, state, nation and world.
He said he will continue being active in social media. “I probably spend more time than I should, but I feel a responsibility to do it even when I don’t get much positive response and everything is negative.” He believes a lot of people are reading who are reasonable and appreciate his insights, but they don’t usually reply or comment.
“I think of the starfish story,” he said, referring to the fable of the guy walking along the ocean shore where thousands of starfish are beached and dying. Someone observes the guy throwing starfish back in the ocean and says, “There are so many, you’ll never make a difference.” To which the guy replies, while tossing a starfish into the surf, “Made a different to that one, didn’t it.”
“I think there might be some reasonable people out there that might be helped by my posts, who I’ve helped enlighten, even if I never hear from them,” Weiler says.
He’s also learned to not take the nasty stuff personally – a critical mindset for any leader active on social media.
So maybe Weiler is a warrior for truth and justice in a warped social media world. Maybe he’s a masochist. Maybe he has a weird sense of duty.
All I know is that he’s a much better man than me when it comes to engaging in social media.
Here’s my excuse for not getting involved. In just one day or so I collected these actual comments and replies (unedited) related to Utah Policy story links posted on Facebook. Why would anyone want to engage?
- And you're freaking idtiot
- I'm black than she is
- GOD HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THIS PRICK
- Another overly intelligent individual.
- Biggots, intirely
- LOLOLOLOL at u gop fools.
- what are you talking about?
- Gas corpse is a play on words I meant oil and gas Corps. for corporations. It would be pronounced corpse.
- Are you an idiot?
- Thanks for an utterly stupid comment! Classic anti-gubmint 'thinking.'
- didn't your boy say " you can't always get what you want.". ???????????
- Hatch needs a funeral of his own!
- You Count My Vote advocates slither back under your rock. Your emotions for brains rattling is ridiculous.
- You are the idiot, sir.
- Romney can piss off