What it means to "be political"

Monday, January 18, 2021 - 4:57am


Design by Caitlin Martens

There is a riot at the United States Capitol, but you happen to be in Miami, Florida on vacation. When choosing to post either a beach picture or an educative update of the insurrection, is it not obvious what is more important to share with your followers on social media? 

To “be political” has recently become a certain personality type. When some people choose to be apolitical, however, they choose to not involve themselves in the dialogues that occur on online platforms. There are two types of people who choose not to engage in those discussions on social media. The first know they are not invested in social media and don’t feel that posting anything will make a change in the world, but they may know they made a more important change at the polls earlier this year. These people are not truly apolitical, they are just nonexpressive. 

The issue is the second type of people, those who choose to not be political, and instead, show off their unaltered lives in this political climate. Being apolitical is a privilege — being able to ignore current events or how the decisions politicians make affect your daily life is an example of privilege. These people are not only demonstrating that they do not need to concern themselves with the changes in our country that impact tens of millions of others, but they are willing to actively steer societal conversations away from those changes.

On Jan. 6, Trump supporters charged the U.S. Capitol in a white supremacist attempt to stop the confirmation of President-elect Joe Biden. The response by the police to this event highlighted the stark contrast between the Black community’s experiences with the police and that of the white community. Namely, law enforcement was far more violent toward Black Lives Matter protesters this summer than toward the predominantly white rioters storming the Capitol building.

On the Thursday following the event on Jan. 6, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg chose to suspend President Donald Trump’s Facebook account after being flagged several times on the platform for misinformation. This series of events established plenty of opportunities to get political on social media, and many college students did.

While many people chose to use social media to show solidarity and spread information, plenty of people were posting anything other than the content that mattered for the day. I was disturbed by a picture of a Spotify song recommendation or dinner array at a hotel restaurant in Florida amid the postings of rioters sitting at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s, D-Calif., desk and scaling the walls of our nation’s Capitol building.

With the heightened political atmosphere this past year with the election, the Black Lives Matter movement and the pandemic, most people can agree that 2020 was hard on our mental well-being. It is easy to see how people would need a break from social media and the constant flood of news. It is also easy to feel suffocated by all of the Instagram stories and Tweets that may begin to lose educational value over time. I cannot emphasize enough that choosing to not participate in social media politics is OK, but choosing ignorance in a tumultuous time by sharing examples of an unharmed, privileged life is not. 

The idea of being political was so prominent already this year due to the presidential election. Many people chose to not involve themselves in the chaos and kept their beliefs and the candidate for which they voted private. And they have a right to do so. 

It is evident that although a new president has been elected, there is still so much work to be done in having a peaceful, democratic transition of power. The work is not over just because there is a hopeful future due to a new source of leadership. There needs to be more advocacy to reform the deep-rooted issues in our country that are only fueled by those privileged enough to ignore the issue. And social media is one way that people — particularly our generation — have started to engage in that advocacy.

We aren’t all meant to be the next politician, commentator or lawyer, but we all have a say in what we share on our own social media. Even if your life won’t be changed by current events, we all have a platform that can be used for advocacy. If not for you, choose to be involved for someone else — someone that needs that change to have a better life. And if you still choose not to publicly advocate, please don’t make us see your beach vacation pictures instead.

Dimitra Colovos can be reached at dimitrac@umich.edu.

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