Facebook in Politics

(This is an essay I wrote for my Media in Modern Politics class. Do you use Facebook? How often do you see political discourse on the website?)

The concept of Facebook originated as all other concepts do— with an idea.

And according to the primary developer, Mark Zuckerberg, the idea started with a mission to give people the power to build community and bring members of the world closer together. Since the beginning of its conception, Facebook has been a source of controversy for many different reasons. From the obvious dilemma surrounding its humble beginning as a “hot or not” app for undergraduate male students; to the lawsuits against Zuckerberg by three Harvard students who accused him of stealing their idea; to controversies surrounding tax avoidance, censorship policies, and handling of user data; and finally the Antitrust lawsuit that rocked the country last year, there has never been a time when Facebook was not under intense scrutiny by the public. Does any of this change the global impact that Facebook has on its users?

 For Jordyn Conard, a junior at Drake University, it does not. Despite the dozens of social media sites that exist for the sole purpose of connecting online users to other users around the world, Facebook is an app that Conard still visits daily, sometimes multiple times a day. As a cheerleader at Drake, Facebook serves as a way for her to keep in contact with friends, family, and organizations that would not be as accessible to her on other apps— like Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter. In recent years, Facebook has been coined by millennials as a “hub” for older generations to congregate in one place. It can be theorized that a majority of younger users on the Facebook app do so for the purpose of staying in touch with loved ones who have not yet planted their feet into newer, sleeker apps like Snapchat. Conard doesn’t necessarily use her Facebook account to post anything, but she does enjoy looking at the content others put out on their public timelines.

 “The app itself comes with its pros and cons. I like seeing my memories pop up from years ago because it reminds me of what I was doing two, or three, or four years ago today. I also enjoy keeping in touch with my grandparents who don’t use any other social media app. I don’t like the ‘stories’ element on the homepage, and rarely ever use that function. Also, the ads seem to take up half of my timeline and what I do see on my timeline is out of order. I also get several irrelevant notifications on my phone every day for a cousin’s friend’s babysitter’s birthday,” Conard said.

The topic of curation is not one that only Conard seems to take issue with. In recent years, Facebook’s use of curation on their News Tab has been a source of public discourse. In August of 2019, Facebook announced that they were going to hire a team of veteran journalists to work around the clock to collect, organize and contextualize information that would be given first-priority in being shown to users on the app. When news of this spread to the public realm, it raised questions surrounding the inevitable biases that could take form when a group of humans were in charge of what the majority of the public saw on their screens everyday, according to an article on Forbes magazine. In the weeks that followed, members from both major sides of the political aisle took offense to this new implementation. Conservatives suggested that the content on Facebook was primarily focused on Democratic and left-leaning politics, and Democrats suggested that this curation didn’t do much to stop the influx of fake Russian-backed accounts from influencing public opinion on the election.

“I think Russians and people of the like have hacked into Facebook before,” Amanda McGowan, another junior at Drake University said. “That’s really scary to think about because if the issue was as wide-spread as people say it is, I think a lot of people could have potentially been influenced by this.”

McGowan doesn’t use Facebook nearly as much as Jordyn Conard does, but she checks in periodically to see what her family is saying about politics. McGowan comes from a conservative line of families, but her immediate family leans left. She says she rarely posts anything other than sporadic comments trying to correct her secondary family members on their political opinions. When asked if she believes her family members have received biased or inaccurate information through Facebook, McGowan responded, “absolutely. I don’t think my aunt would have voted for Trump in 2016 if she hadn’t been flooded with false information.”

I will admit, my own personal Facebook habits are quite similar to Amanda’s. I can’t count how many times I have engaged in public quarrel with someone on Facebook over a political difference in opinion. And thousands of others, I’m sure, can attest to that too. What started off as a way for people to come together and build a community around personal experiences has quickly shifted into an Amphitheatre of political discourse.

Siva Vaidhyanathan, the author of “Anti-social Media” also describes his personal use of Facebook in a more light-hearted tone. He even goes as far as to call himself a “social media power user.” 

“…when Facebook became available to those with an @nyu.edu email address in 2004 I signed up immediately. I didn’t think deeply about social networking in those days. But its importance in my life and the lives of two billion others has forced me to master it… I have discovered many fascinating works of thought and culture via Facebook. Through [it] I have befriended people I have not spoken with since we were small children. I have followed friends’ children as they have grown up and left home. I have mourned the passing of more than a few friends and dear relatives…I have learned a lot through Facebook.” (Vaidhyanathan, 43)

For even one of the most prominent and outspoken criticizers of Facebook, Vaidhyanathan seems to use the app just as frequently as those who blindly support it. Despite this, Vaidhyanathan concludes his book with a summons. He suggests that all of the dangers surrounding Facebook must be mitigated soon, or we would enter into a rocky territory that will be impossible to crawl out of. In order to fix this problem, Vaidhyanathan urges readers to study the issues surrounding Facebook, construct proposals that take all stakeholders into account, introduce them carefully with consideration of their potential effects, and argue honestly about the best ways to move forward. But after interviewing multiple Facebook users, and analyzing the habits of both myself and Vaidhyanathan, it doesn’t seem like this idea is one that will make it past its early stages of conception. But the global powerhouse that is Facebook originated as all other concepts do— with an idea. And seeing that something so powerful originated from a rundown dorm room at a college in Massachusetts may give us hope that our ideas can become a powerhouse, too.

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The Dream of Fifteen— How a Progressive Idea Is Paving Its Way Into the Forefront of American Policy

(This is a political article I wrote for Drake University’s Drake Political Review about the minimum wage in America.)

Numerous studies have shown that both Democrats and Republicans are in favor of increasing the federal minimum wage, which has stood at $7.25 since 2009. The question among Congressmembers is, to what extent and how fast? Progressives have their own idea.

It’s been more than a year since the COVID-19 pandemic made its presence known in the United States, and many Americans are still struggling to deal with the economic aftermath. Progressives have long pushed for a $15 federal minimum wage, and they believe the idea is more important now than it ever has been— but questions have been raised about the effect a wage increase would have on the country. Is $15 a fix-all policy, or will it hurt the economy?

Supporters of the $15 minimum wage experienced a glimmer of hope in January when President Biden introduced a massive $1.9-trillion coronavirus relief package into Congress. A key proposal in President Biden’s initial plan included a federal minimum wage increase of $15 an hour. 

Their hope was short-lived, however. 

After widespread debate between the House and Senate as to what components of the bill should make the final cut, the $15 wage increase was struck down in a vote on March 5, 2021. To add insult to injury for progressive Senators, seven of their fellow Democratic Senators and Independent Senator Angus King voted against the measure.

The push to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour did not begin with President Biden’s relief plan, and it won’t end with it either. Progressive lawmakers have long advocated for an increase in pay for low-wage workers, citing that anything under $15 is not a livable wage for any American, let alone one who is trying to support a family on a single-income. With 65% of the population supporting an increase in the minimum wage, questions have been raised about why this measure would be voted out of the final relief package, especially by Democratic Senators. 

“The simple fact of the matter is that $15 as the minimum wage is just barely a living wage,” said Pete D’Alessandro, the Iowa director for Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign and 2018 candidate for Iowa’s third Congressional District. “And to have people that are working 40 hours a week not be able to sustain even a basic dignity, in terms of their day-to-day, is absolutely wrong… $15 is the low point, and there shouldn’t be any negotiations lower than that.”

The next step for members of Congress who are in support of the wage increase is an attempt to use reconciliation, a budget process that would let Democrats bypass the 60-vote legislative filibuster. Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) will be responsible for drafting a resolution in the coming weeks that will cater to this idea.

“We need to include [the $15 minimum wage] with a bigger package so that lawmakers have to vote up or down on the full package, and we would do that if there is a vote on reconciliation,” said Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), an avid supporter of the $15 minimum wage. “We have the power to make it part of the reconciliation… but it’s going to require Republican votes, and I am going to lead the charge on that.”

It has been over 11 years since the last time the federal minimum wage was raised, and many feel that another wage increase is long overdue. In 2012, the “Fight For $15” movement popularized the concept of $15 being the minimum hourly rate for workers. Since then, seven states have passed legislation to phase in a $15 minimum wage in certain cities, including New York, California, and Washington. This “magic number,” made popular by Progressive Democrats and grassroots campaigns, has caused controversy in both the political and economic realm. 

In a 2015 survey conducted by the UNH Survey Center, nearly three-quarters of U.S. based economists opposed a federal wage of $15, citing that the measure will have negative effects on youth employment levels, adult employment levels, and the number of jobs available. Additionally, seven out of ten economists believed that small businesses with fewer than 50 employees would struggle to keep their business afloat. A majority of the economists polled in the survey self-identified as Democrats.

The push to raise the minimum wage to $15 or more is not the only measure that stands at the top of the progressive agenda. Recent years have seen an increase in discussion surrounding substantial reform to America’s healthcare, higher education, environmental, and social justice systems. Medicare For All, a Green New Deal, Debt-Free College, and police reform have paved the way into the forefront of political dialogue, and the rise of the progressive movement has grown significantly among both candidates for office and the general public. Despite these policies still being considered controversial among many, more and more people are beginning to open up to them— particularly when Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders announced his candidacy for president in early 2015 and brought with him a set of policy ideas that had rarely been given a second thought in the public eye until then.

“[The Progressive movement] has always been there,” Pete D’Alessandro said. “But there were things that kept it from taking off… I used to say this about being on the Bernie Sanders campaign. He didn’t invent these ideals, they were there waiting for someone like him.”

President Biden signing the COVID-19 relief bill isn’t an end-all cure for the economic and social devastation that Americans have faced in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it is clear to the majority of the population that there is still substantial work needed to be done to help offset the burden. What exact policies need to be implemented, however, will be under intense debate for the foreseeable future— and if there is one thing to be said about progressives, it is that their consistency on the issues don’t seem to waver with time and circumstance.

“People realize that so much of the country has been left behind,” said Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA). “So much of the country has not had economic dignity or a great economic future… And that means that the minimum we ought to give people is good healthcare… And it means that the minimum we should give people is good education…  And it means at the very least people should be paid fairly for their work, not being paid starvation wages. These are common sense ideas, and I believe the pandemic has made us more empathetic, more aware of the suffering of our fellow Americans.”

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