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Tea Party Community: A League of Their Own

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There's a teaching in communications psychology called "selective perception" and "selective retention," which theorizes that two people with opposing viewpoints could watch the same news report or movie, and only hear and retain things that reinforce their own views. So for example, two people watching the same presidential debate could walk away remembering very different things: the Democrat would remember President Obama's plans to expand health care, and the Republican would remember Mitt Romney's plan to create jobs and bring down the deficit.

The theory holds true for cable television as well, with stations like MSNBC catering to the left-leaning news consumers, and Fox News catering to those on the right (the ones who claim to be "fair and balanced").

Now, that theory extends even to social media. Meet Tea Party Community, the conservative Facebook.

The welcome/sign up page features the "Don't Tread on Me." Sample posts feature Obama holding screws with the caption "Free Obamacare suppositories," and a photo of guns saying "My guns won't be illegal, they will be undocumented. SHARE IF YOU AGREE!"

A note at the top of the forum apologizes for tech issues and wrongful banning from the forum with the following message:

"Because we have doubled our membership count since our national launch, we have been under severe attack by large hacking and troll groups which has caused discord for our managment [sic] team and members alike. These groups despise what we stand for and seek to destroy us and silence our voice.

First off, we would like to apologize to our members that have had their accounts accidentally banned by our automated controls and fake reports to our moderation staff. We have now tuned our moderation software and have opted instead to let 'You the TPC member' to help us keep our community troll free. We are also placing trusted members in moderator position to help accomplish this task."

The site looks a lot like an earlier version of Facebook (you know, the one everyone knew how to use before the revamps) and seems to be more open to strangers commenting on and liking posts and statuses than its predecessor -- while you can friend other users on the TPC, any TPC user (friend or not) can comment on your posts and activity.

And the language used in its explanation of banning -- referring to "trolls" and "silencing our voice" -- has the site playing social media victim, as if other social networking sites don't allow them to voice their opinions. But clearly, this is a community of proud conservatives creating their own forum for sharing their own ideas outside of an Internet they consider to be too liberal/reality based.

From the outside world, this looks like a crazy aberration of gun-toting, Jesus-loving "Keep the government out of my life and send the president back to Kenya" individuals who are tired of their liberal friends commenting on their Facebook statuses. And it is. But it goes beyond that. This community was designed as a "safe space," for people to be as conservative as they want, to keep out "trolls," meaning anyone with a differing opinion. It was designed as a self-feeding bubble of a site, to keep the conservative views of its users insulated. It's very much the Fox News of social media.

Of course the Tea Party would start its own social media page, because the rest of the world is too left-leaning to accept. It ties back into the idea of "selective perception" and "selective retention," where even if these Internet users stuck to Facebook like the rest of the world, they would most likely ignore posts that do not agree with their point of view anyway. Rather than accepting reality, they substitute their own.

I'm interested to see the future of this online community, and whether it evolves into a full-fledged tool for connecting like-minded people for grassroots causes or campaign purposes for Tea Party candidates, or if it fizzles out. Right now, the page seems like too much of a hodgepodge to truly organize -- it's a lot of angry people who want to keep their guns, put God back in the White House, bash Karl Rove for silencing Tea Party candidates, stop illegal immigration, and post a lot of really offensive racist and sexist content to the delight of racist and sexist Internet users. Really, at this point, the TPC is just preaching to the choir and reinforcing the bubble that the Tea Party seems to live in. Whether or not this community will grow beyond discontent and ignorance is yet to be seen, but I have a feeling it will see the same rise and fall as the Tea Party has over the next few months.