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Facebook and the paradox of digital politics | Column – Tampa Bay Times

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In the 12 years since Barack Obama first mastered the art of digital campaigning, social media has grown into a central feature of American public life. So much so, that the CEOs of both Facebook and Twitter were recently called to testify before the U.S. Senate about the potential influence that their companies may have on electoral outcomes. But when it comes to politics, social media’s growing importance should not necessarily be mistaken for a vote of public confidence.

A recent survey conducted at the University of South Florida examined the role that Facebook played in the 2020 election and found an interesting paradox: While Floridians are increasingly turning to social media to stay up to date and informed about politics, many are dissatisfied with the quality of the information they encounter online.

USF professor Stephen Neely [ File photo ]

The survey — which was conducted between Oct. 10 and Oct. 17 — asked a representative sample of 600 Floridians how heavily they relied on Facebook to stay informed about the p,esidential election. Consistent with national trends, more than half (58 percent) indicated that they relied on Facebook at least “a little,” while nearly a third (31 percent) answered “a lot.”

For many, social media platforms have become part of a day-to-day news routine. Almost a quarter of respondents (22 percent) reported collecting information about the election on Facebook every day, while more than half (57 percent) did so at least once a week. The responses remind us just how deeply ingrained social media has become in modern political life, but at the same time, it seems that many users are less than enthusiastic about the political environment that they encounter on Facebook and other platforms.

While reliance on social media is on the rise, nearly two-thirds of social media users in Florida (63 percent) said that they were “not very confident” about the accuracy of the political information they see on Facebook.

Worse yet, when asked to describe the political conversations they encountered on social media during the presidential election, most respondents painted a decidedly negative picture. The most frequently chosen adjectives were “one-sided” (41 percent), “frustrating” (40 percent), “hateful” (37 percent) and “offensive” (35 percent). Less than 20 percent of respondents described these discussions as “thoughtful” or “constructive.”

For some Floridians, the rancorous discourse was enough to affect their online relationships. Nearly a third of respondents (29 percent) reported “unfriending” or “unfollowing” someone over political posts in the three months leading up to the 2020 election. Another 25 percent utilized Facebook’s “snooze” feature to temporarily block someone for the same reason.

USF survey [ Provided ]

The fact that so many social media users are breaking network ties over politics is alarming. For one thing, it reflects the already polarized nature of American politics in the 21st century, including an increasing trend toward politically homogenous social circles. Furthermore, while some say they unfriend others for posting about politics too often, respondents more commonly reported “unfriending” or “unfollowing” members of their social network simply for posting a political opinion with which they disagreed.

In recent years, political scientists and others have raised significant concerns over the potential for these behaviors to result in the formation of online “echo chambers” — or social networks that become increasingly one-sided as alternative viewpoints are filtered out with the click of a button.

Not only do these “echo chambers” lead to further partisan entrenchment, but it is also feared that they may foster the conditions in which misinformation can flourish, as false claims and unfounded conspiracy theories can remain unchallenged in closed-off networks. Between COVID-19 and the Presidential election, we’ve seen ample evidence of this in recent months.

Social media companies can’t be blamed for all that ails American democracy. With or without Facebook, we would likely still be struggling with severe polarization and very real challenges with informational credibility. But it is also safe to say that social media isn’t making things better, either.

While trends and data suggest that platforms like Facebook and Twitter will only become more central to public and political life in the coming years, many users seem to be sending clear signals about the type of information environment that they would like to find there — namely one populated by more reliable information and more civil discourse. For social media companies such as Facebook, achieving those outcomes may be the single most important challenge of the next decade.

Stephen Neely (srneely@usf.edu) is an associate professor in the School of Public Affairs at the University of South Florida. The USF study was conducted as an online survey using Prodege MR, a leading market research provider. The sample of 600 Floridians was fielded to be representative of the state’s demographic composition based on region, age, gender, race, and ethnicity. The results are reported with a confidence level of 95% and a margin of error +/- 4.

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N.S. health minister to retire from politics after term ends – Global News

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Nova Scotia Minister of Health Leo Glavine has announced he is stepping down after his term.

Glavine said in a Thursday cabinet meeting he will not be re-offering in the next election and is choosing to retire from politics.

But, he will carry out his term.

“I certainly plan to put my heart and soul into the next number of months,” Glavine said.

“The premier called upon me to fill the role of minister of health which I will certainly do until Feb. 6, and maybe the new premier will ask me to carry on, which I would certainly be honoured to do, as tough as it is.”

Read more:
N.S. cabinet shuffle names new ministers to forestry, health, heritage and advanced education

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Glavine, a former educator, has had nearly 18 years of political life. He was first elected MLA for Kings West in 2003.

“It’s a great honour to be able to serve my riding first, and then go to government and serve the province,” Glavine said.

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Glavine told cabinet it’s been an emotional day for him.

“To put the kind of time into an elected office that is required today, certainly my first thanks go to my wife Doris, my family. Probably the biggest reason of all at this stage of my life, to head back to private life and enjoy what the valley has to offer and what our province has to offer.”

Glavine said he now hopes to spend more time with his grandchildren.

He said he is grateful for the support of his colleagues.

“I’m reminded that politics is the ultimate in-the-team game,” Glavine said.


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McNeil discusses new cabinet appointments


McNeil discusses new cabinet appointments – Oct 13, 2020

“I’ve had the good fortune to have a number of people to be my sounding board during my time in office. I’ve had the good fortune to come into political life with Premier McNeil… We’re the only two remaining from the class of 2003, so maybe quite appropriate that as he leaves political office, I leave as well.”

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Glavine’s announcement comes just as Nova Scotia entered the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

He said the Public Health team has put in hard work, which will certainly continue in the new year.

“We’ve had an exceptional team in public health and the premier to guide our province through what may be one of the most challenging and difficult periods in the 21st century and we’ll have to certainly see about that.”

Read more:
An inside look at how Nova Scotia tests for COVID-19

Glavine said he’s grateful for what politics has thrown at him.

“There are no perfect answers or solutions to all problems, but to get up each day and face what’s on the plate of the province… has for me been a joy.”

“I have not missed a day of work in my 17 and a half years in political office. So, I’ve enjoyed the journey and I look forward now to the next stage of my life.”

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Families Have Been Torn Apart by Politics. What Happens to Them Now? – The New York Times

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Tho Nguyen’s parents, who immigrated from Vietnam, were always Republican. They are Catholic and oppose abortion. Four years ago they voted for Donald Trump.

But nothing prepared Ms. Nguyen, 25, a medical student in Kansas, for how much politics would divide her family over the next four years, as her parents became increasingly passionate about the president.

In recent weeks, as the election drew nearer, Ms. Nguyen said she has had screaming fights with her parents — very unusual for her family. Her mother threatened to stop cooking if she and her sisters voted for Mr. Biden. She had to look up the word ‘brainwashed’ in Vietnamese. But when she used it to describe her parents, her father said it applied to her.

She said her parents did not believe Mr. Biden could have won, and it was hard to convince them otherwise, because that is not what they were hearing from Vietnamese sources on Facebook.

“In my dad’s mind, more than half of the votes for Biden were illegal,” said Ms. Nguyen, who lives with her parents and was spending Thanksgiving with them. “It’s just wild.”

The shock of Donald J. Trump’s election in 2016, just before the holiday season, tested many American families who had to confront — or avoid altogether — political disagreements over Thanksgiving dinners. Many Democrats said they were angry at family members who voted for him. Republicans rejected the notion that their votes were referendums on whether they were good people.

But four years later, for some families, those differences have mutated into something deeper — a divide over basic facts and visions for America’s future. That rift feels even harder to mend after the 2020 election, as Mr. Trump stoked conspiracy theories questioning the legitimacy of Mr. Biden’s win.

Credit…Travis Dove for The New York Times

In interviews during and after the election, Americans talked about the differences that had emerged in their families over politics and how they had changed over the past four years. Some had learned to live with them, and were trying hard to focus on the things they had in common. Others had not spoken since 2016.

Many were in a stressful, messy place in between — trying to manage with loved ones who saw the world differently than they did. Several asked that their last names not be published because they did not want to lose the diminished relationships they still had. In most cases relatives with whom there was conflict — and who may have offered different accounts of the disagreements — were not contacted.

Unlike 2016, when conflicts emerged over political choices, this time they centered on the result itself. Polls since the election have found that large majorities of those who voted for Trump do not believe the election was fair. Large shares also say mail-in ballots were manipulated in favor of Joe Biden. But the situation is fluid, and interviews with voters showed substantial variation among Republicans, many of whom have their own stories of family loss.

“I believe it was all on the up and up,” said William Hill, a lawyer in the Midwest, of the election. Mr. Hill voted for Mr. Trump, but said he believed that Mr. Biden “is not a bad guy. He’s not going to do something that’s going to harm the country. He’s just not.”

But the election result has not mended the rupture in his family. He said his sister, who lives in Seattle, blew up at him after he voted for Mr. Trump in 2016, and they haven’t spoken since. He said he has sent her and her wife a Christmas gift every year — a box of nuts from a local gourmet shop — but he has never heard back. The most recent news of her, he said, was a post on Facebook after the election agreeing with someone who said, “Why would we want to unify with those people?”

“It hurts,” said Mr. Hill, who is 50. He said his sister and her wife “are good people,” and it still baffles him that political differences could cost a relationship. “My daughter sees things completely differently than I do politically, but she still gives me a hug every night.”

The political divisions within families, while widespread, are far from universal. Dr. Joshua Coleman, a psychologist who specializes in estrangement, said that while he now has such cases in his practice, they are still a small share of the business, and, so far, mostly consist of millennials or other younger Americans pulling back from or cutting off their more conservative baby boomer parents.

That was the case in the Ackley family.

Danielle Ackley of North Carolina and her mother have always been different politically. But they agreed to disagree, even after Mr. Trump’s 2016 win, which Ms. Ackley said brought her son to tears.

Credit…Jeremy M. Lange for The New York Times

But during a visit last month, they got into a terrible argument over politics. Ms. Ackley, 37, said she got angry when she heard her mother criticize Mr. Biden’s character. Then it escalated. It ended with her telling her mother to leave.

“This is not even a political divide, it’s a reality divide,” said Ms. Ackley, who added that she felt even more distant after seeing her mother comment approvingly on a Facebook post questioning mail-in ballots.

For Debbie Ackley, who is 59, the experience was painful and a shock. She said she remembers staring down at her phone, trying not to cry.She left the next morning, hours earlier than she had planned, and was so upset on the drive that she worried she might crash.

She said she loved her daughter, and though she did not understand her anger, she knew it came from a good place.

“Danielle has got the biggest heart,” she said. “She’s very sensitive and very loving. She takes things to heart.”

She said she was frustrated by what she saw as a growing intolerance in the country.

“It’s scary that there’s very little tolerance and respect for other people’s views and opinions — that’s what makes me sad,” she said.

As for the election, she said she has no doubt that there was fraud in the mail-in ballots, but whether it was enough to change the outcome, “I really don’t know.”

In the most extreme cases, what began as a manageable political disagreement in 2016 morphed into something much darker, as people watched family members who voted for Mr. Trump become absorbed by conspiracy theories that the president himself was spreading.

Christine, a real estate agent in Massachusetts, remembers her mother’s excitement at Mr. Trump’s win in 2016. They were on a family vacation, and no one else was happy about it, but the difference didn’t seem to matter very much.

But over the past year, she said she has seen her mother, a 75-year-old waitress, change from an enthusiastic gardener and antiques shopper to someone so obsessed with the QAnon conspiracy theory that she said she could no longer get through to her. Her mother was spending her free time staring at her iPad, and this spring, bought a necklace with a Q on it.

“I feel like I’ve been in mourning for someone who is still alive, and that’s a bizarre thing,” said Christine, 34, who shares a last name with her mother and asked that it not be used in order to protect their privacy. “The person she used to be is not here anymore. I miss her so much.”

She said this was the first Thanksgiving of her life that she would not be spending with her mother, who had been one of her closest confidants and lives 10 miles away.

Credit…Victor J. Blue for The New York Times

For many, the key to preventing estrangement is not talking about politics in the first place. That is how Michelle, a health care worker in Arizona, has tried to manage the situation in her family. She said her sister voted for Mr. Trump, but they agreed long ago never to discuss it, and are best friends who talk every day.

“We’re both like, nope, we’re not going to do it,” she said. “I value her as my sister, we are really close.”

But she cried as she described having to block her father, a retired manager for a manufacturing firm, from her email this fall, because of what she said was a constant stream of conspiracy-laden messages that he would not stop sending even after she had asked. She asked that her last name not be used because she feared further damage to her relationship with him.

“I’m just sad,” she said, crying softly. “Just because, you know, he’s my dad, and he’s always helped me if I’ve ever needed it. He’s always been there for me.”

Still, she planned to see him on Thanksgiving, outside and masked.

A number of older voters said they grew up around family and friends who didn’t always agree with them politically, but those distinctions mattered less to a person’s identity then. They didn’t pick fights over them, because politics was not who you were.

“I really just don’t see alienating my family over this,” said Joe Wallace, 75, a retired pipe fitter in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania who voted for Joe Biden. He said that he was baffled by his sisters’ strong support for Mr. Trump, but that he never talked about it with them. “It’s not worth it.”

Will relationships heal now that Mr. Trump is no longer president? Nearly everyone interviewed for this article who had experienced a falling out said they did not think so — at least not immediately. Estelle Moore, a retired flight attendant in East Stroudsburg, Pa., said it was as if we had seen things in each other that we weren’t supposed to. But now that we had, we could not un-see them.

“It’s like frying chicken,” said Ms. Moore, 64, sitting in a lawn chair outside her small brick house. “Once you put it into that hot grease, it becomes something different.”

The Ackleys aren’t giving up. A week after the election, Danielle Ackley sent her mother a message. She had spent days composing it, sitting on her lunch break at the plant nursery where she works. Her mother wrote back that they had many things to talk about. Politics did not have to one of them.

Debbie Ackley said it reminded her of the time she took her young son to the circus and encountered her daughter, then a high schooler, protesting the treatment of the elephants.

“That’s my daughter,” she said. “I’m so proud of her. I’m so proud of the person she has become.”

Sona Patel contributed reporting.

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Here's a cheat sheet for Thanksgiving's inevitable politics talk – CNN

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Let’s face it: There is a lot of lingering bad blood between family members and friends after four years of President Donald Trump. When we should be turning the page after a hard-fought political contest, some 68% of Republicans roughly a fifth of all Americans — seem to have bought into the baseless lie that the election was “rigged.” Now, Thanksgiving itself has been turned into a culture war battle cry against the backdrop of an escalating pandemic.
Good people can, of course, disagree about politics. But refusing to recognize the results of a not particularly close democratic election is well beyond politics as usual in America. In some conversations with friends and family, finding common ground rooted in shared facts requires the civic equivalent of landing a triple axel at the Olympics. After all, how do you reason someone out of something that they weren’t reasoned into?
For the sake of your loved ones and society, I’d hope that most of you are choosing to follow CDC guidelines and spend the holiday at home with few, if any, extended family members. But even that’s no guarantee of a politics-free holiday — and family Zooms can also degenerate quickly. So, as a cheat sheet to counter deeply held disinformation, here are some baseline facts that could come in handy:
Joe Biden won the election with more than 80 million votes — the most ever. His 306 electoral vote total is the same number that Donald Trump declared a “landslide” four years ago, when he lost the popular vote by a then-unprecedented nearly 2.9 million votes. This time, he lost the popular vote by more than 6 million.
As for conspiracy theories about stolen votes, national, state and private election officials, including Trump administration security staffers, stated that the “election was the most secure in American history” with “no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised.”
When it comes to evidence, the Trump legal team has lost or withdrawn from at least 30 court cases since the election, with one Republican federal judge in Pennsylvania dismissing the campaign’s claims stating: “(T)his Court has been presented with strained legal arguments without merit and speculative accusations, unpled in the operative complaint and unsupported by evidence.” If that sounds harsh, consider that eight of Trump’s biggest lies have been verified when submitted to investigation by Republicans in Congress or the Trump Justice Department.
But facts only go so far with folks who believe that Trump — who’s been caught in more than 20,000 “false or misleading claims,” according to the Washington Post — is the only person telling the truth. Polarization and conflict increase groupthink. What we’re dealing with in some cases is a belief system that is beyond reason — and what are you supposed to do with that in conversation? It’s hard to just nod along when the subject is QAnon.
In search for answers, I spoke to Steve Hassan, a leading cult-deprogrammer and author of “The Cult of Trump.” Before you get up in arms, I’m not saying that Trump supporters are members of a cult — but Hassan does have some insights from his work that could be useful in finding a way to reason together when arguments seem beyond reason.
As a young honors student, Hassan fell under the sway of the Moonies, formally called the Unification Church that many critics liken to a cult, and was convinced to fast during Watergate because God wanted Richard Nixon to remain President. Hassan counsels that his work is not focused on “people who are just stone-cold pragmatists” about Trump but “people who are actually true believers.” Among those folks, “what doesn’t work is a direct attack on the leader, the doctrine, or the group … that digs people’s heels in.”
Extreme political polarization amounts to indoctrination, but Hassan believes that “the cure to unethical influence is ethical influence” — and that involves a process of listening to a person respectfully and gently reminding them of once deep-seated values and principles, drawing out implicit parallels where indoctrination has obscured objective truth.
In Hassan’s practice, this process takes days — there is not a single conversation quick fix. For the purposes of this exercise, let’s use members of Trump’s legal team as examples.
Rudy Giuliani used to say that “to be locked into partisan politics doesn’t permit you to think clearly.” He used to condemn Pat Buchanan’s paleo-conservative populism as dangerous, which is the closest analogue to what Donald Trump advances in the political arena. And as a one-time legendary US attorney, he deeply believes in the law as a search for the truth. Discussing those principles — with respect and separate from the current controversies — might help depolarize the conversation.
In the case of Trump lawyer Jenna Ellis, who is very vocal about her Christian faith, a conversation about the Sermon on the Mount might eventually cause her to reflect on whether accusing Republican pollster Frank Luntz of having a “micro-penis” is what Jesus would have done. Or you could work toward asking her what she meant when she called Trump an “idiot” in 2016 and slammed his base for not caring about “facts or logic.”
A key point of depolarizing conversations is to help folks feel heard while finding common ground. The goal is not to achieve an instant conversion but instead to begin communication that breaks down the walls that keep people in separate realities buffeted by “alternative facts.”
“If I had one bullhorn,” says Hassan, “I’d say to everybody, ‘Reach out to your loved ones who believe in Trump, your friends and family members, and stop calling them names and stop trying to win arguments, and remember the good old days and even agree not to talk politics for a while until you rekindle the warmth in your relationship.'”
That’s good advice for any Thanksgiving, consistent with the civic purposes of the holiday as proclaimed by President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War: “(T)o heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.”

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