Lately, as I’ve been whiling away the hours on social media, I’ve seen more and more posts like this:
“I wish I could log on to [social media platform] without seeing posts about politics”
“[Celebrities x] shouldn’t be talking politics”
“I’m so glad [carefree event] is distracting me from politics!”
Posts like these boil down to “I want a break from politics.” To a degree, I get it. The people posting such things probably slogged through a long day full of personal worries only to open their social media feed and see people arguing in the comments of a shared news article or photos touting ideas they may not agree with. They expect social media (and celebrities, TV shows, etc.) to entertain them, to deliver them from unpleasantness. They didn’t come to Facebook, Twitter, or what have you to engage with current events, or to think about upsetting things. They just wanted to see pictures of puppies cuddling with babies or read an update on their friend’s weekend plans. They didn’t ask to be confronted with strong viewpoints they never considered. They didn’t ask to feel guilty for scrolling past them.
But unfortunately for people begging for a break from politics, they won’t be getting one any time soon, and I’m not sure they deserve one. For many complaining about the inundation of politics in places where they “shouldn’t” be, avoiding politics is as easy as logging off. I know that in my own life, I spent years worrying about my friends, my family, school, and not much else. My first real encounters with political issues outside my hometown were on Tumblr, and they eventually spilled over onto the other social media platforms I used. While I’ve since gone out of my way to stay informed on politics through classes, articles, and, yes, social media, theoretically I could quit at any time. I could stop opening links to videos of protests that my friends share, I could simply stop reading the news. I could screen the opinions I see online, and my life would be much the same. So what if Trump became president? I would still go to college, still find a job, still watch cat videos online, albeit after quickly scrolling past substantially more irrelevant political arguments.
However, if my exposure to politics thus far has taught me anything, it’s that just because your life would be unaffected if the next president was a potato (and as we know, the current worse-case scenario would be a lot worse), and therefore you can get away with ignoring politics, does not mean you should. Willfully ignoring politics at all times to carry on with a carefree life is, at the least willfully ignorant and at the worst worst, lazy, selfish, and harmful to others.
Politics may seem abstract and annoying when it’s getting in the way of your well-deserved mental break, but the consequences of political arguments, whether online or on the House floor, are real. Politics is behind the mother looking out the window at her son as he leaves for school, hoping he doesn’t run into a bad cop. Politics is behind the vendor at a farmers’ market posting a sign to his tent saying food stamps are accepted. Politics is behind the girl clearing her work schedule so she has time for the long trip to one of two Planned Parenthood centers in her state. Politics is not fun to talk about, and its consequences are not as innocently amusing as a Tasty video, but it is necessary to talk about, and while many of us live (or believe we live) apolitically offline, social media is a realm where politics absolutely has a place. Honestly, when these online spaces are designed to grant people voices and (in the case of celebrities especially) substantially large and attentive audiences for those voices, what better place is there for political discussion?
I’m not saying everyone needs to stop posting jokes and vacation photos and share nothing but heavily researched political treatises. Everyone deserves to give themselves time to breathe and heal from whatever challenges they face throughout the day, and social media may be the place to provide that. But while many (including myself, if we’re being honest) may live relatively shielded from the consequences of political actions and be able to afford to extend our break from challenging topics indefinitely, many more can’t, and we owe it to them to expend some mental energy engaging with politics. We should do our best to embrace politics when we encounter it on our feeds, and use those encounters as jumping off points to seek politics elsewhere and stay informed, especially during a critical election season. At the very least, if after reading this you still want to continue living apolitically, I can promise if politics aren’t eradicated from your feed, you’ll live. God knows it’s easy enough to keep scrolling past it.