When news of President Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the 2015 Paris Agreement broke on June 1, 2017, I was scrolling through Facebook, like so many of us usually are. As articles and videos began to crop up from sources such as CNN and The New York Times, the comments sections of these news pieces caught my eye over and over again.
Although the proliferation of news through social media can create a problematic echo chamber effect in which we only read and see the things that we already agree with, shared by people who tend to have similar political leanings as we do, the public comments sections of news pages, such as CNN and Fox News, remain a somewhat diverse open forum. There is something delightful about seeing the genuine juxtaposition of views played out in strangers’ comments on breaking news stories.
While it’s true that for this specific partisan issue regarding the Paris Agreement, the majority of people commenting on stories put out by CNN seemed to condemn Trump’s actions, and the majority of people commenting on stories produced by Fox News seemed to support Trump’s actions, there was still a healthy amount of dissenting opinion from many sides on both pages. Often, these contrasting opinions appeared directly above and below each other, such as in the comments section of a live video published by CNN of Trump making his announcement regarding the climate agreement.
As can be seen in the screenshot above, taken at 1:08 p.m. on June 1, these comments that were coming in as the live video was streamed represented a variety of viewpoints and ways of approaching the topic.
The beauty of the comments section is in its diversity and the kind of lawlessness with which people seem to operate when typing out their thoughts. Comments range from humorous to outraged to flat-out aggressive, no matter the topic. The full range of human emotion is captured in the comments of everyday people making themselves heard however they can.
This extends beyond politically charged forums as well. A video posted by Tasty to Facebook titled “Healthy Cucumber, Tomato, and Avocado Salad” received a robust range of comments. Although the video depicted a seemingly uncontroversial salad, people were quick to assert their opinions and counter those of others.
The First Amendment at work, folks.
Exercise your First Amendment rights and contact Cecilia Atkins at catkins ‘at’ stanford.edu.