Cast a Vote, Lose a Friend

Early voting begins in Tennessee today. I’m headed to the local polling station as they open, because I’m not interested in long lines and waiting on a work day. I won’t reveal who I’m voting for, as I’ve learned this election cycle it’s best to keep your personal political preferences to yourself. However, last night I wanted to conduct an experiment. Would people cut ties with me if I voted for someone they didn’t like as a candidate?

The people closest to me use Facebook as their social media platform of choice, so I asked the simple question: “If I voted for a candidate you didn’t like, would you cut ties with me?” Out of those who chose to respond, the resounding majority said “no.” Two indicated they would laugh at me if I voted for a candidate with whom they disagreed. That’s fine. Their validation has no bearing on my self-worth.

This is good news in some respects, as people have called this campaign the most politically divisive in their lifetimes. We’ve seen a major party candidate have support pulled from his own party. Locally, friends and families cut ties with each other over political support for one candidate or another. Behind a keyboard, individual people with some prominence have said things very similar to the following.

If you’re a Trump supporter, I hate you. Go kill yourself. I hope you die horribly, because you deserve it.

If you stand with this candidate you stand against me and my family.

If you think Donald Trump should be President, then get out of my life. Unfriend me. Unfollow me. You mean nothing to me.

Those are incredibly strong words from people claiming publicly to be “tolerant,” “inclusive,” and “respectful.” Those quotes represent a cross-section of America right now with hatred in their hearts for others just because their political beliefs may be different from their own. That’s a strong indicator of what folks really believe, as opposed to what they profess to believe. It says they really plan to follow a path of hatred, fear, and anger with those closest to them over simply shrugging and saying “it’s all politics.”

It’s too early to see if people will follow through with their threats to sever ties with friends and family. And one can’t really get in the head of a person to see if they’d truly like to watch someone commit suicide over an election. It is clear, however, this election’s produced a level of intense anger most are afraid to admit ever existed.

Someone recently firebombed a North Carolina GOP office. They also spray painted a swastika and the words “Nazi Republicans Leave Town” on the side of the building. It was comforting to see politicians on both sides of the aisle condemn this act of sheer hatred. In a lovely display, a Democratic group got together and started a fundraiser to help rebuild that GOP office. Good intentions aside, it’s hard to tell if this was an example of virtue signaling or sincere support. This is what happens when a major political candidate tells her support base half of the other guy’s supporters are “deplorables.” When you link a major political party to a racist movement, and then tell people their candidate is dangerous for supporting someone who won’t explicitly disavow someone in a racist movement, it’s natural to expect violence as a result.

Who I vote for will remain with me. Before he passed from this earth, my grandfather told me “Keep your political preferences to yourself, kid. You’ll keep more business partners and friends that way.” I like my friends and those with whom I do business, so in this case I choose to remain silent.


Did I Cause A Social Media Scare?

A text message Saturday morning had me curious.  Could I potentially start a scare using influence, suggestion, and persuasion tactics on social media?  I decided to conduct an experiment, using Facebook as the basis and persuasion tactics I’ve learned over time to see if I could convince someone a gas shortage existed in Tennessee.

For those who aren’t aware, a spill in a pipeline around Alabama caused the potential for a gas shortage in the Volunteer State.  According to local news reports, the pipeline was the primary means of petroleum delivery for several gas station chains, so “stocking up” was crucial.  Because the story to sell was “gas shortage,” one local television station had the requisite “eye-witness” who couldn’t get gas at a local station not far from Compound West.

I began my experiment by posting the following to Facebook:

There is a gas shortage in Tennessee.
You need to go out right now and buy gas before you can’t get any.
You don’t need to question this. Don’t bother actually checking a “news” source. Just believe me.
I saw it on Facebook, anyway. That makes it newsworthy and true.

I also predicted that at least one person would get mad at me for posting said statement on Facebook.  That’s because over time on that platform I’ve learned its users have a love/hate relationship with facts and truth.  People are incredibly ready to believe a clickbait article about Iceland paying men $5,000 to move there so they will marry more women and a population increase occurs, but if you post a stupid picture from a page like “Shares From Your Aunt” they will get angry because it’s nonsensical.

And then there’s the stuff that makes lawyers’ brains instinctively hurt.  The posts about Facebook gaining a license to all of your work and how you need to paste an official notice to your wall per a bullshit UCC article.  So truth is a pliable subject on Zuckerberg’s social platform.  Let’s see where the experiment takes us.

Within minutes, one user shared the post twice without any question of the source.

Ten people “liked” the post.  Three people reacted with a laughing icon.  This would tend to indicate those who saw it recognized the post as a joke.  Some didn’t though, and those comments became the interesting aspect of this experiment.

One user commented the following:

WATE-6 reports this, and parts of Georgia are also affected.

Yet another replied on the same comment thread:

And it’s all caused by Colonial Pipeline burst just south of Birmingham, AL. We are under a state of emergency for a gas shortage. So is GA.

These statements added to the original influence of my post through an appeal to authority and something referred to as “social proof.”  Both add to what is called “confirmation bias.”  Smarter folk than I explain these principles in other areas, and they aren’t really mine to teach.  I will take the time to expose each statement as it appears.

Our next commenter decided to bless us with anecdotal evidence to support my claim.  This is an interesting comment, because it had absolutely nothing to do with Tennessee or a gas shortage.

While at a stoplight in SC yesterday, I saw an electronic gas price sign change the price of all three grades by 10 cents per gallon. The price did’t (sic) go down.

The comment was nothing short of lunacy in action, but it added to the subjective belief that there was some sort of panic over losing gas supply in Tennessee that people in Nashville were lining up at the pumps in double-digit lines to fuel their cars.  Someone asked if people were that “dumb.”  My response was simple:

“No.  They’re just irrational and acting out of fear.”

So did I personally cause a panic?  The answer is an unqualified “no.”  However, I wasn’t the only person talking about the issue on social media.  Local news outlets blamed the long lines at the pump for “chatter on social media.”  One suggestion can cause a group response.  When that group takes a source as credible, and it plays to a strong emotion, panics occur.

Belief is subjective.  If you know where a party’s beliefs lie, they can be changed and plied into a new form.