I Can Haz Political Opinions Plz

It goes without saying that young adults make up a large portion of Internet users on social networking sites. To many young people of our generation, accessing websites such as Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Reddit is a normal and daily occurrence. Love it or hate it, the truth is that we check our news feed and dashboard like it’s the morning paper. These websites have gone beyond socializing and blogging; they have evolved into our one-stop-shop for news, sharing ideas and voicing opinions.

With an increased presence of political organizations on the Internet and the integration of many online news publications in social networking sites, these websites have become a home for political discussions. Seeing the Internet become a place for political dialogue is a beautiful thing to witness.

However, the issue is that many people — specifically young adults — will believe what they see on the Internet and base their claims off of something that is trending on Twitter or reblogged on Tumblr without checking the facts.

Almost everyday we see political events and personalities as the subject of memes, gifs, trending topics and blog posts across the Internet. As entertaining as these posts may be, it is time we put into perspective their influence on young adults’ political opinions. The widespread use of this form of media has evolved into a type of political rhetoric popular amongst many of us. As with most phenomena on the Internet, there are negative and positive repercussions that come with this online political culture.

The problem with this new form of rhetoric is that a lot of people get a small look at a big picture. Though these modern methods of making political statements seem to be getting more attention with every “like” and retweet, they do not always convey all the facts to their audience.

Granted, most of these memes and satirical blog posts primarily serve an entertaining or comedic purpose, but there is always a political message lying beneath the sarcastic white block text and edited gif sets. Many users will wrongly believe what they see online and pass it on to their friends and followers. Not every infographic is accurate and not every trending topic is based off truth. When people share a screenshot of a speech, what’s being spread is the equivalent of a skewed sound bite on a biased news station. Though this form of tweaking the truth is nothing new, it does not help to be spread amongst young adults on the Internet.

It’s time we start to check ourselves. Just because something has 20,000 notes on Tumblr doesn’t make it true or worth sharing with your followers. In order to become informed voters, we must question sources and dig for facts. In a perfect world, everyone would provide sources, no one would be twisting the truth and teenagers would read the news more than Facebook statuses. But this is America in 2012, and we would much rather have our “news” brought to us in 160 characters instead of bringing ourselves to a news story that’s 610 words.

However, there is a lot to be merited in this method of being politically informed. Some people do check to see if what their friend just said about a certain presidential candidate being cruel to animals is true.

Also, not every claim is faulty and lacks sources; some things shared on the Internet are actually insightful and very politically stimulating.  The more these posts inspire young people to go out to the polls, the better. But it isn’t just about a higher turn out in the ages of 18-25, it’s about a higher informed turnout. If we are in the information age, it’s time we think about where we are getting our information.

Sarah S. Menendez is a secondyear political science and literary journalism double major. She can be reached at smenende@uci.edu.