BYU students believe social media increased negative election rhetoric

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Public relations major Megan Bertha, from California, wore patriotic colors and a "Make America Dance Again" hat on the day after the election. (Ryan Turner)
Public relations major Megan Bertha, from California, wore patriotic colors and a “Make America Dance Again” hat on the day after the election. (Ryan Turner)

The 2016 presidential election solidified the idea for some BYU students that politics is a nasty business. Some expressed they were “fed up” with the vast amounts of negative rhetoric this election season, especially on social media.

BYU political science senior Christa Cutler said she thinks it’s terrible this election has caused an increase in blatant rudeness within the U.S.

“I am fed up with the recent political election ever since Trump won,” Cutler said. “I love studying politics, but I feel like since Trump won, people feel like they can say rude things and just say ‘Welcome to Trump’s America.’ I think that social media played a huge part in the type of rhetoric we heard because so many people can say whatever they want and not be held accountable.”

Daniel Gallacher and his friend Brady Ulloa jokingly announced their run for President and Vice President in 2032. Their caption stated that, "American may end tomorrow, but our future starts today." (Trevor Morgan)
Daniel Gallacher and his friend Brady Ulloa jokingly announced their bid for the U.S. Presidency in 2032, since thats when they’ll both be old enough to run. “America may end tomorrow, but our future starts today,” stated in the photo’s Facebook caption. (Daniel Gallacher via Facebook)

BYU finance sophomore Daniel Gallacher said he shares Cutler’s attitude toward this year’s presidential election.

“I’m fed up with uninformed citizens who blindly conform to whatever media they follow,” Gallacher said.

Both Cutler and Gallacher said perhaps individuals should look at many different sources to establish less biased views.

Pew Research Center study found over 62 percent of U.S. adults now get their news on social media. The balance between personal opinion and news, especially when such news includes vast amounts of negative political rhetoric, may further increase feelings of animosity toward the recent presidential election.

Assistant BYU professor Kevin John, who teaches a media effects class, said research continues to align itself with the idea that social media spreads negativity.

Pew Research shows that about 6 in 10 adults get news from social media. (Pew Research)
A Pew Research Center study shows about 6 in 10 adults get news from social media. (Pew Research Center)

Research has shown that negative conversations online result in greater back and forth exchanges than positive conversations,” John said. “I think social media and online forums simply amplify the unfiltered negative feelings that individuals have about these two candidates.”

BYU assistant political science professor Michael Barber said there are also many more factors that contributed to the immense amount of negative rhetoric this election season other than social media.

It’s hard to say if there was one particular reason, but one contributing factor is the unpopularity of both candidates,” Barber said. “Both candidates had favorability ratings that were lower than any other candidate’s in modern history.”

Hillary Clinton’s favorability was at 41.8 percent on election day, while president-elect Donald Trump had a favorability of 37.5 percent, according to the Real Clear Politics website.

Gallacher said he strongly believes social media was the major leading factor for negative rhetoric during the 2016 presidential election.

“We have access to so much information that people don’t want to take the time to study the issues,” Gallacher said. “Someone else does the work, summarizes what they think is important and then distributes that summary.”

Gallacher said the result is a people that only hears bits and pieces of a puzzle, and that creates opinions with only half of the facts. 

Barber said students who want to find fair and balanced news with much less negativity should go back to the most traditional media.

“Reading the newspaper or watching public television or network TV tends to present things in a more evenhanded and calmer manner,” Barber said.

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