When Social Media Meets Real Life … In a Positive Way

Note: This post was automatically generated from John’s weekly newsletter, The Daly Grind. If you encounter broken links or images, you can go here to read from the original newsletter: Read More

There’s been a raging debate for years about whether or not the invention of social media was a net positive or negative for society. Those who feel it’s the latter certainly have plenty of evidence on their side, including cyber-bullying and anonymous trolling, self-image issues, fake news, national security concerns, and the mainstreaming of reckless conspiracy theories and other forms of cultural radicalism.

I have a more nuanced view of social media. I certainly recognize the bad stuff, but have also seen and experienced a lot of its goodness, like old friends reconnecting, calls for support that are answered, and celebrations of achievements and milestones. It can also be good, under the right circumstances, for making friends. I was reminded of that last weekend.

On Friday, I flew out to Washington DC for the Principles First Summit. It’s an annual political conference that I was attending for the first time. I wrote at length about the experience here, but for this week’s Daly Grind newsletter, I wanted to focus more on the social part of the event.

First, a little personal history… Back in 2012, I was pretty content with Facebook hosting my one and only social-media account. But after signing my first book contract, I took my publisher’s advice and grew my author brand to multiple platforms. One of them was Twitter (now called “X”, though I still refer to it by its old name). Over time I came to realize that while it was a decent enough space for promoting my books, it was even better suited for promoting my political writing. There were many serious political and media voices on Twitter, along with a ton of enthusiastic news consumers with whom they freely engaged. In getting in on that scene, and maintaining a regular presence on the platform over the last dozen or so years, I’ve not only become personally acquainted with a lot of public figures, but also many regular folks who share a number of my beliefs and perspectives.

Sure, there’s also a lot of internet trolls and bots to contend with. They reliably muck up the experience, along with the broader degradation of the platform under Elon Musk’s watch, but there’s also a lot of mutual respect, humor, and friendly pleasantries exchanged between people who’ve come to kind of know each other over a long period of time.

I knew I’d run into at least some of my online crowd during the Principles First Summit, having seen some of their tweets mentioning as much. But when I showed up Friday night at a local barbecue restaurant for the event’s reception, I was blown away by just how many of them there were.

In addition to my friend A.B. Stoddard, who I’d coordinated with beforehand, there were other fellow political writers I’d befriended online, like Jim Swift (of The Bulwark), Quin Hillyer (of the Washington Examiner), Robert George, and Sarah Quinlan.

Outnumbering them were several longtime readers of my writing, and grassroots activists I’d also come to know on Twitter. They were coming out of the woodwork from the moment I walked in.

I was thankful many of them approached me and introduced themselves, because I’m not always great with last names, and until I met them in the flesh, I had mostly associated our online exchanges (that have spanned years in some cases) with small profile-photos and faceless avatars. But now, for the first time, I was face to face with these people: Lisa, Tom, John, Travis, Nate, the mysterious woman known on Twitter as “Indy Auntie”, and more. We had a blast catching up in the “real world.”

It carried over into the next two days of the actual conference. I met both Daves, Clifford, Terri, and Elaine, and connected with more media figures I knew, like Amanda Carpenter, and Jonah Goldberg and Steve Hayes from The Dispatch.

For me, it wasn’t about networking, but rather comradery. I genuinely like these people, and I enjoyed running across them in hallways, elevators, and the hotel bar, where we’d shoot the breeze, ask about each other’s families, and talk a little shop. And when I think back and connect the dots, it’s hard to imagine I would have had any kind of relationship with any of them if it wasn’t for Twitter, in some way, bringing us together.

I’d call that a big win for the pro-social-media argument.

Of course, online friendships can’t hold a candle to in-person relationships nourished over time and built on trust. I’d never argue otherwise. But when it comes to fellowship, I prefer addition over subtraction, and I’m looking forward to going back to next year’s Principles First Summit for more of it.

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What do you think? Has social media done more harm than good, or the other way around? Let me know in an email or in the comment section below.

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Obligatory Dog Shot

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