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48 Investigates: Social media playing key role in presidential elections

(Source: WAFF) (Source: WAFF)
(WAFF) -

With less than a year to go before we pick a new president, it looks like social media is going to play a key role in the election as candidates try to reach out to voters, and convince them they are the best person for the job.

Social media is great for keeping in touch, sharing a laugh and even promoting a business but it is also the clearinghouse for every opinion out there. So what do you do about friends who consistently post their political views, and what about the ones you find insulting or rude?

We went to the experts for answers.

When he is not working as a furniture repairman, Jeff Davis likes to go on Facebook to keep in touch with family and friends. He occasionally uses it as a political sounding board.

"The adage let's 'agree to disagree'... that's where I fall with a lot of people," said Davis.

Davis admits his political post have led some people to "unfriend" him on Facebook.

"Most of 'em, it was, kinda a bittersweet thing, because they're still friends as far as I'm concerned," said Davis.

And these social media comments are what political scientist Michael Cornfield is studying. He is comparing how presidential candidates are mentioned in social media to how they are talked about in mainstream media.

"It's an important topic because today more and more people are getting their political news and opinions from Facebook and Social Media," Cornfield explained.

Cornfield does not necessarily think social media has made people more interested in politics but he does think it has allowed people to say a lot more than they ever could in public.

This increase in dialogue is bound to stir up strong emotions.

Professor Jessica Myrick researches the way various media shapes our emotional reactions.

""I think people have always been passionate about politics, and now with social media, there are more outlets and more ways to express it. You can share a news story and sort of implicitly show your opinion, or you can write a page-long rant," said Myrick.

Myrick suggests that people think before they post and for people to not let emotions get the best of them.

"I think when people are posting about politics on social media they should imagine if they ran into their social media friends in the grocery store and just said the same thing there in person--how others would react," added Myrick.

 Cornfield reminds his political science students that what they post is public.

"They learn to post things as though they would be read 20 years from now at a job interview," explained Cornfield.

 Myrick suggests using your emotional energy in a constructive way if you are offended by a political post.

"Don't just try to inhibit the emotion completely, cause that's unnatural. We are human beings and bound to act emotionally.  But see if you can turn that emotional energy into something more positive, like doing some research, or even volunteering for a political cause you believe in," said Myrick.

Davis said he is not out to hurt anyone and will continue to post his political views as the presidential election heats up.

He did add that he learned a long time ago that it is not likely for him to change anybody's mind.

If you really can not stand a friend's political posts on sites like Facebook or Twitter, one option is to "unfollow" that person until the election is over. 
This is a slightly more subtle way to avoid seeing their posts, without going to the extreme of blocking or "unfriending" that person.

Copyright 2016 WAFF. All rights reserved.

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