Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Personally Political

To the dismay of a vocal segment of its user base, LinkedIn is becoming more and more a run-of-the-mill social media site, with people asking about medical conditions, sharing self-portraits, proclaiming their faith and making political statements. What makes this last aspect of the site interesting is that despite the fact that posts are made with real names, and people understand that potential employers may see them, people are unafraid of naked partisanship.

There have been a couple of posts over the last week or so that illustrate this. One was a link to an article on a Republican website that was headlined "California Woman Says 'She Got Pregnant At 15 Because Her Town Didn't Have a Planned Parenthood'." As one might expect a number of self-identified conservatives quickly jumped on the bandwagon on condemning "California Woman" for not taking responsibility for her promiscuity and lack of contraception. Which would have been reasonable - had the article in question actually contained any statement by her to that effect. Interestingly enough, the only place the statement appears is in the headline. While the article implies that had the woman had access to a Planned Parenthood clinic, she may have aborted the fetus, rather than keep it, even this is only an implication - she never actually says this is what she would have done. The other illustrative posting is a meme consisting of side-by-side pictures of President Obama and President Trump. President Obama is speaking outside the White House, while a Marine holds up an umbrella. President Trump is shown adjusting a Marine's peaked cap. According to the caption, President Obama is self-important for having the Marine hold the umbrella, while President Trump is selfless for picking up a Marine's cap that had blown off in the wind. Again people were quick to pile onto the criticize President Obama bandwagon, as if the essence of each man could be neatly boiled down to these two pictures.

The most interesting thing about these posts for me is how people have started using LinkedIn to show their partisan political loyalties through personal attacks on others, rather than by attacking or defending policy. Because one can be a staunch Republican, and still believe (although this seems to be more and more rare) that non-Republicans are not bad people - they simply support the wrong policy choices. Whether or not ad hominem attacks are a useful and/or appropriate way to display ideology is a separate issue from that ideology, and one suspects that there are still people out there who might like what one says, but take exception to saying it by putting others down.

I'm curious at to whether the erosion of the idea that publicly calling other people out for being perverse is unprofessional is being driven by the rise of an internet culture in which people have grown accustomed to the fleeting nature of web communications or the widening partisan gap and the need, when in an echo chamber, to always keep up with the loudest voices. In any event, the idea that an incautious social media post would spell social or professional suicide seems to have become a quaint relic of a bygone era, even though it was all of 10 to 15 years ago. I suspect that at some point, someone will post something on LinkedIn that unexpectedly becomes incendiary enough that it burns them badly enough that everyone feels the heat and things quiet down. The question then, is how long will it take.

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