The Most Important Debate isn't Between the Candidates Themselves

The Most Important Debate Isn’t Between the Candidates Themselves

With modern technology advancing us into a more connected world, older traditions don’t die off, they just follow suit and change their look. Political debate is a perfect example of that- this Monday, we have the first Presidential debate between the nominees of both major parties. The debates themselves have changed in many ways, from the idea of televising them to including town hall formats that include questions from the audience. But solely focusing on how technology has changed the way our two favorite political leaders of the day attack each other in our living rooms misses the much larger point- the way we debate each other in this very same way has changed drastically.

 While the nominees are debating each other on the big television networks, we as a society are becoming increasingly more likely to get our share of political news and debate from social media sites rather than television, especially among Millennials, according this 2012 report. And the political posts we read aren’t always from the candidates or campaigns we follow, as the Pew Research Center recently reported that approximately 34% of us posted our own opinions online, while 21% of belong to an online political organization, and 20% of us follow a candidate’s profile page. Seeing that we receive information from a variety of sources, most of which is not distributed by politicians or candidates themselves, the posts our friends write about the election are actually the most common political news/discourse we take in.

This is nothing new- the 2016 political debate between friends and random strangers on the internet is just the next chapter in the relatively new practice of opinion blogging, where anyone anywhere can post their thoughts at any time. Unfortunately, this enables a fair amount of ignorant and offensive opinions to be shared, but this is also a modern extension of the Public Forum. The Public Forum, one of the most widely celebrated ideas in human history, stereotypically has always been a physical location (amphitheater, coffee shop, etc.) where different people exchanged their thoughts and opinions on the issues of the day. With the introduction of the internet into our everyday lives, this phenomenon has almost entirely moved online, which we can see today in the form of Facebook groups supporting a political candidate, live tweets regarding the day’s most pressing issues, and Tumblr- sorry, you can’t just give a succinct description of the political side of Tumblr.

While political debates are always worth the watch on any level of government, they are never the first or last word. The debate rages online forever, and the public meeting place is always accessible at any time of the day. So the next time an offensive post pops up on your social media, thank technology for creating the most open and public forum the world has ever known. Then debate your heart out.