Analyze social media’s role in Donald Trump’s victory
In a Jan. 21 interview with Variety Magazine, comedian and talk show host Chelsea Handler blamed the Kardashians for President Trump’s success. She cited that the media treated Trump’s campaign as a reality show, not reality. The reality show is a phenomenon that the Kardashians have popularized. Though seemingly ludicrous, her claim may actually be valid if we consider just how much people have become engrossed in social media. The Kardashian clan is the logical endpoint of this digital age, the most apt illustration of the people we have become. The sisters are famous for their reality television, which has enjoyed high viewership ratings for all 11 seasons. The show has popularized in some of the public the need for private lives to be documented and altered so as to appear glamorous. Isn’t this what some of us do when we Snapchat outings with friends? We are a culture more engrossed in the representation of our lives than in living our lives. So it is understandable that Trump has become the 45th president of the United States. Indeed, pollsters made errors and Hillary Clinton’s campaign was poor. However, our being out of touch with reality is partly to blame for how much we underestimated a Trump win.
Trump was just another headline in a Facebook newsfeed or “story” on Snapchat, but now that he has walked out of our smartphones and into the Oval Office, what are we to do? Are we to block, unfriend or dislike him? We can start by logging off of our social media more frequently or begin using it in moderation. Social media has permeated almost every aspect of our lives, and our reliance upon it comes as no shock. To look for love or sex, we use Tinder or Grindr. To look for jobs or to network, we use LinkedIn. In some instances, we even go to Amazon to buy groceries. In making life more convenient for us, social media has made us lose touch with reality. In 1998, Robert Kraut, a researcher at Carnegie Mellon University, explored the alienating nature of the Internet. He found that the more people used the web, the lonelier and more depressed they felt. This, he theorized, was caused by the social-psychological phenomenon of comparison.
Professor Hanna Krasnova of the University of Potsdam has done similar research that suggests that envy increases with Facebook usage. According to Krasnova, though we initially joined to feel closer to our loved ones, soon we begin to resent each other’s lives and feel that we have some image to maintain. We lose touch with reality because we develop unrealistic concepts of beauty and start seeing people as competitors or commodities.
Following the elections, people felt betrayed as they learned that so many people had actually voted for Donald Trump. Their false sense of security came from the illusory aspect of social media, including inherent liberal bias as well as confirmation bias. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg admitted that Facebook workers “routinely suppressed news stories of interest to conservative readers from the social network’s influential ‘trending’ news section,” according to a June 24, 2016 Opportunity Lives article. Social media tends to favor information that confirms pre-existing beliefs with little consideration of other opinions.
Additionally, people tend to “friend” mostly people who share their views; thus, unpopular opinions are often left unconsidered. As such, social media may have misrepresented pre-election America. Mainstream and social media propelled the image of Clinton as the inevitable winner of the two presidential candidates; that the majority of Americans were really with her. Had we used social media more discerningly, we might have learned just how divided opinion was over whom America thought best for office.
On Nov. 10, 2016, Business Insider published charts showing which demographics voted for which candidate. Considering these, the need for us to turn away from such misleading forums could not be more dire. Judging by the Business Insider data, combined with an Oct. 25, 2016 Pew Research Center article, demographics with very low visibility in the media voted for Trump the most. These demographics include inhabitants of small and rural cities or suburbs and people above 50 years of age. These individuals are important because of their votes; however, they were excluded from the conversation because they did not use social media as much. Consequently, the rest of America underestimated crucial constituencies.
Nonetheless, we can bridge the gaps that social media has created in America by turning away from its illusory reality. We must start acknowledging the real America — the real America in which innocent black men get shot on the streets by the police, the real America in which a number of towns and cities are in a state of persistent decline, the real America in which many Midwesterners are struggling with unemployment since deindustrialization. We need to acknowledge that, geographically, America is a vast country. As such, it is easy to become insular, to engage only with the communities we identify with and ignore everyone else. There is so much diversity in this country, but as it stands, it is all for show. We can start with the youth and young adults, those most influenced by social media. Initiatives like school or college trips to different states could broaden understanding between communities. For religious adults, conventions could be organized where communities with different beliefs come together to further interfaith understanding.
America has grown complacent. Many of its citizens are so subsumed in the privileges that come with living in a “first world country” that they are ignorant. The average American teen struggles to point out where on the world map Zimbabwe is located. Living in a country with so much wealth has left its citizens unquestioning as they take everything for granted. During Trump’s presidential term, Americans must start questioning everything. This will prove important whenever scrolling down the newsfeeds of various social media, as, often, everything is not as it seems. Questioning everything will also be important in the wake of “alternative facts” and “fake news.” Perhaps many of the policies that will be established under Trump will be heralded as being for the good of the public when they may be inherently short-sighted or serve only the interests of a select population. It is here that we can put critical thinking to use. In this time, we should not only question newspaper articles, political speeches or television specials; we should also read, watch or engage with as much as we can with the hope of attaining a panorama of not only what is going on in America but also what is going on in the rest of the world.
America can consider Trump’s presidency a call to remain vigilant, to turn away from its smartphones and realize that battles like the Civil Rights Movement still are not over. America can also consider Trump’s presidency a dose of humility, a drastic signal that is alerting it of just how much it has become subsumed in privilege — and how much it has lost touch with reality.