Whether they went to the polls or not, college students certainly made their voices heard in the presidential election this year … online.
Tuesday night, I sat in a room full of students watching the election results unfold on TV. This was the first time most of us had voted, and we approached the event as we do every other major moment in our lives — with phones in hand, ready to immediately connect with the world via text, Twitter and Facebook.
As the networks projected that President Obama had gained the 270 electoral votes necessary to win re-election, thumbs tapped away on phones, and my friends’ varied opinions were made known to all.
Whether elated, disheartened or downright angry, many chose to post things in the heat of the moment that I wonder if they’ll regret days, years or decades from now.
Of course, sensationalized political posts aren’t unique to college students.
President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney on stage together at the end of the last debate at Lynn University.
Newsfeeds around the world were littered with self-appointed constitutional scholars and celebrity pundits. Other posts were unbiased displays of patriotism. And even some enlightened posts educated Facebook and Twitter users with facts about the election and real implications of its outcome.
In fact, political posts were so prominent this week that traditional media emphasized the role of social media in the election, developing tools such as a Twitter election meter to gauge public sentiments based on Twitter keywords.
President Obama’s “Four more years” tweet was re-tweeted nearly 750,000 times in less than 24 hours, making it the most shared tweet ever.
But as a college student, I am constantly reminded that everything I say on social media sites leaves a permanent, virtual trail that will be accessible to graduate schools, potential employers and maybe even my future in-laws.
So before I hit “post” on my own viewpoint, I paused, thought about it, and then hit delete instead.
I have opinions, and I’m not afraid to express them, but sometimes, I prefer to keep my feelings private.
Of course, as a general practice, I think Americans should feel comfortable saying what they believe. That is our right.
A friend of mine didn’t hesitate to exercise his rights. A pre-medical senior at the University of Florida, Casey Runte posted an extremely passionate and expletive-laced status reflecting his disappointment in the outcome of the election and it blew up with more than 100 “likes.”
He later followed that status with another post, explaining his initial reaction and elaborating about why he voted the way he did.
“I have not had health insurance for 4 years now so I have every right to say what I want. I know how expensive college is, and how expensive medical bills are because I pay for them myself, on my own 100%. You’d think I would be happy that Obama is handing me money, creating cheaper student loans that I use, and forcing me to buy cheap insurance. That couldn’t be farther from the truth.”
I asked him if it made him nervous to be so real and upfront about his emotions in such a permanent way.
“I will share my opinion about anything in life with whoever asks. I am not afraid to express how I feel, and that goes for politics too,” Runte said. “If someone wants to de-friend me on Facebook, they can do so … I will not remove posts or anything of the like. I think that any future employer would be happy to see that an employee or applicant cares so deeply about the field of study they are pursuing and the push they are making for the betterment of society.”
Just as Casey and I reacted in different ways to the election, Americans will always have differences in opinion — because we can.
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