Doctor: Social media platforms can feed hateful, negative rhetoric

Doctor: Social media platforms can feed hateful, negative rhetoric

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - The political climate on social media continues to further divide a country already at odds after last year's presidential election.

The man who shot Congressman Steve Scalise and three others Wednesday at a ballpark in Virginia had an extensive history of posting his frustrations on social media before resorting to violence.

James Hodgkinson, 66, openly threatened President Donald Trump and the political establishment on Facebook.

One post said, "Trump is a Traitor. Trump Has Destroyed Our Democracy. It's Time to Destroy Trump & Co."

Hodgkinson, a former Bernie Sanders presidential campaign volunteer, posted a cartoon in January 2015 about Rep. Steve Scalise saying, "Here's a Republican that should Lose His Job, but they Gave Him a Raise."

On Facebook, Hodgkinson also joined groups with names like "The Road to Hell is Paved with Republicans" and "Terminate the Republican Party."

"Even though this platform has allowed us a very different way to communicate, it also has its pitfalls, its nuances and its problems that we're starting to discover," Social Media consultant Tiffany Starnes said.

She believes the platforms most often connect people and lead to positive outcomes, but there are instances where it opens the door for negative speech.

"You're dehumanized to a certain degree behind a keyboard, behind a phone, and maybe you're not thinking about - would you say this out loud?" Starnes said. "Would you say this in front of a friend or a family member or a coworker? Maybe before you hit post or publish, really thinking about what you're saying instead of just sending it out into this abyss where there don't really seem to be consequences all the time."

The overwhelming majority of hateful and threatening posts online do not have consequences.

On FOX 8's own Facebook page, people posted about Scalise's shooting in several negative ways.

One person said, "Awww poor little devil. He isn't so powerful now just an ordinary person but evil."

Another person called Scalise, "The finest representative monies can buy" and the "pity party reports are bogus."

In another post under a story where Scalise's wife said the majority whip should recover, one man posted, "Breaking news your husband Steve is scum. No prayers."

"People start to feel angry about something, then they read about these topics that they are already angry about," LSU Clinical Health Psychiatrist Dr. Michelle Moore said. "They get more angry, and the anger just builds and builds and it has a snowball effect that it just collects, and then people end up doing sadly irrational things."

Moore said its unclear if social media has made Americans angrier.

"I don't know that we can definitely say that it has, but it certainly can fuel anger in a really negative way that some just typical conversations just aren't going to do," Moore said.

Moore suggests that anyone who finds themselves frustrated on social media should turn it off.

"You can't keep looking at that stuff and keep fueling that anger within yourself, because that's going to bring more negativity. And don't post these hurtful things to other people. Stop and think, how would you want someone to react to your family members? Stop and think, how would you feel if somebody said that about you?" Moore said.

According to the Happiness Research Institute, giving up social media for just a week boosts happiness and reduces anger and the feeling of loneliness.

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