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Don't Let Social Media Turn Neighbors Into Enemies

02.05.18 01:15 PM – Andy McDonald
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Charles de Gaulle once said that war stirs in men’s hearts the mud of their worst instincts. I think the same could be said for social media these days. It is turning people who were once our neighbors, people with whom we could respectfully disagree, into enemies.

Take for example the upcoming special election for Kentucky state representative in the 89th district. One would have to say the race currently favors the Republican candidate because he’s running in a red district. He seems successful and likeable. He’s a family man. He touts conservative values. In a largely rural district in a very red state, that’s political gold.

The Democrats are represented by first-time candidate Kelly Smith, a working mother and long-time member of the Berea community. Knowing she’s in the race makes me feel pretty good about the special election, regardless of the outcome. Kelly’s a bit liberal for my taste, but from what I’ve observed, she’s a good mom, and her ties to the community make me think she would be responsive to the needs of our city. In that respect, I think the 89th district is very lucky to have two good citizens to choose from. To read social media, however, not everyone feels that way.

For many, the rancorous political atmosphere gives license to regard Ms. Smith not as their neighbor with whom they happen to politely disagree, but as an ideological enemy to be destroyed. On social media, one Republican activist fashioned a collage with a photo of Kelly participating in a women’s march, then they juxtaposed her picture against offensive images from similar events from around the country.

I get that they disagree with facets of her political philosophy, but the attack on her was intellectually dishonest. It was akin to pasting a picture of a Berea Christian at a pro-life march alongside hateful images of Westboro Baptist Church members – the people who protested the funerals of dead serviceman. The implication would be that the Berea Christian, in supporting one cause, somehow endorses the most extreme behavior of others who also claim to support that same cause. The logic of the social media post about Smith was similar: Ms. Smith is a feminist. Some feminists choose to engage in offensive behavior. Therefore, Ms. Smith endorses offensive behavior. Conservative Republicans think it’s unfair to be routinely stereotyped by the media as bigoted, ignorant, or uncaring. They are right. So why is it right for Republican activists to use that same tactic to tar our neighbor, who happens to be a left-of-center Democrat? It’s neither fair nor honest.

Sadly, some fell for the smear against Kelly, and they used the social media post as justification to disparage her character and to call her vile names. They seem to have forgotten that candidates, regardless of party affiliation, are people. Many are moms and dads who are making a sacrifice and taking a risk when they put their names on the ballot. Whether one is Republican, Democrat or Independent, it takes courage to step up to run for office, especially when you know there are a whole lot of people who will no longer regard you as their neighbor but as the pawn of a hostile clique or ideology. We're seeing a lot of that in Berea lately as some of apparently forgotten that the willingness of those brave souls to put their reputations on the line is what keeps our democracy working.

When we go into the voting booth, we’ll choose some candidates over others. That’s our right. But we should not forget that they all deserve our thanks.

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