The super-PACs involved in Trump’s campaign are Rebuilding America Now, Great America PAC, and the Committee for American Sovereignty. You may not have heard of them, because, what they’ve contributed to the ongoing social media conversation? Nada. Zip. Zero. Zilch. There are other organizations, however, that have played prominent roles throughout the campaign. Liberal America, Daily Kos, and Breitbart have been consistently reporting on various topics related to Trump. These companies are social media producers; they pull articles from online journals (some reputable, some not) and repost them with some click-baity headline like, “Plane goes down in flames. You’ll never BELIEVE what Trump said next!”
Each of these organizations has fanned large flames into the conversation. Looking solely at Twitter, Breitbart specifically has a pretty small impact, with many tweets under 100 likes or retweets. On Facebook, however, each many politically-based posts have thousands of shares, likes, and comments, showing that many people are interacting with the post’s content. Vox recently responded to Alec Baldwin’s SNL skit about Trump’s excessive tweeting, the Facebook post with over 400 shares. This post, in particular, contributes to the continuing narrative on the left that Trump is not someone to be respected as President-elect but to be mocked.
This mocking has been the cornerstone of Liberal America’s social media strategy. Scrolling through WSJ’s BlueFeed Reefed Facebook tracker, this is made abundantly clear. They routinely mock Trump, calling him names, and calling his supporters the “stupidest people ever.” One post made a strong depiction of Trump as The Grinch, while another called him a mofo. Real mature. My favorite name they used to describe Trump as “Lord Cheeto” in reference to his unnaturally orange skin.
Breitbart, a traditionally conservative news site, has a particular strategy: use celebrities to boost the message. In nearly every post, Breitbart appeals to popularity by including the name of a celebrity in their headline. “If this famous person says it, it must be true!” is the common desired outcome. Although this is true in some cases, Breitbart also uses celebrities’ negative Trump comments to shame the liberal side yet keep high ratings. I first noticed this pattern with their Madonna post. “America’s ashamed to have YOU!” they said in response to her public proclamation that she was ashamed to live here. “Get out!”
Next, they attack what Sally Field said about Trump. They then used Jon Stewart, CEO Mark Fields, and Judge Jeanine to boost their pro-Trump messages. It’s obvious that they have caught on to the truth that putting a celebrity into any news will immediately make it more interesting and publicized, and it’s working. Many of their Facebook posts have thousands of reactions, comments, and shares.
A final big influencer is the leftist Daily Kos, a media outlet that not unexpectedly attacks Trump, attacks Trump’s newly appointed administration, and reports how Americans can resist Trump’s presidency. Yawn.
Over the span of the election, and more specifically the last six months, a few consistent narratives concerning Trump arose on most social media platforms. Many Liberal pages report information that depicts Trump supporters as dumb, and Trump as a racist, xenophobic man who is not capable experientially, nor does he have the necessary character to run our country. He is someone to be mocked, as shown before (Lord Cheeto). On the conservative side, the recurring narrative is that Trump is the change that America needs, and that not all Trump supporters are racist, xenophobic, and want to build a wall. Oh, also that all the celebrities that publicly disapprove of Trump should GTFO. Additionally, there has been a consistent dislike for Trump’s wife, Melania. From her plagiarized speech to her lack of support by political designers, she and Donald Trump have been nothing short of a contentious topic to bring up over Thanksgiving dinner. Regarding his perceived incompetence, Conan released a video of supposed phone calls between Obama and Trump.
Among specific policy issues, the wall and the swamp have been hot. Also, the fact that Trump wants to ban Muslims from entering the country, as well as refugees has been a hot topic. It seems that overall Trump is serious about keeping America safe and that our safety will be threatened by anyone considered to be an outsider. These political narratives changed drastically when the election finally came. Even during the two weeks leading up to the election, previously set opinions of each candidate shook. When the FBI made Hillary’s email investigation a public matter, something in the public opinion switched. No longer was the left sentiment “Oh, Hillary is going to win,” prevailing, but something along the lines of “Oh, wait a second, Trump is gaining support…” Finally, on election day, this second idea gained traction as the polls rolled in. Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit all echoed one another with shouts of outrage, despair, and triumph. This single event was (rightfully) enough to switch all trends regarding Trump because the topic at hand had come to a climax and an unprecedented one at that.
Aside from the speculation surrounding Trump’s win, perhaps the most interesting find throughout the semester has been the article from Vox regarding Trump’s speech. The article hypothesized that trump’s speech is correlated to when he feels like he’s losing power or gaining power. When he’s knowingly losing power, his words become a tool that he uses to gain power back, even if his words are false, contradictory, or just plain dumb. The list of quotes from the second presidential debate demonstrates this. Consistently he told Hillary that she was wrong, shouting, “false” and “wrong” whenever she claimed something contentious about Trump. Vox’s explanation for Trump’s speech patterns rings truer than any other article that seeks to explain Trump’s erratic word choice. No longer did the public have to wonder why Trump seemed to say one thing, then another, then “wrong!” There was a new, relevant hypothesis.
Over the course of the semester, the most relevant grouping of readings was undoubtedly week 10. Our class discussion was right in step with findings from Breitbart, specifically, since the former executive chairman of the company resigned in August to help with Trump’s campaign as the new campaign aide. His decision was not made without much thought and intention. This further shows that New Media—Breitbart—is much more intertwined with politics than we’d like to believe. Sure, theoretically these are two separate spheres, but with this merging comes a new age where political opinion is not mediated by policy but by posts.
By one argument, social media has put politics into the hands of many, and especially into the hands of the people that tend to have low voting outcomes—those between the ages of 18 and 25. This involvement could speak to its’ rising influence. Also, politicians themselves have entered the social media sphere, widening its impact. There are now campaign strategies for how a candidate uses Facebook and Twitter. Trump’s usage of Twitter has sure rounded a corner when it comes to politicians using social media. The integration now is greater than ever, and I think this is a positive trend. A friend of mine once said, “I could never date a girl unless I saw her social media accounts.” Asking him what was so important about social media, he responded, “Well, a girl can seem totally normal. Then you look at her Twitter, and she’s gossiping about her best friend’s boyfriend and how he’s a terrible guy because he didn’t text back her friend. She’s subtweeting, retweeting problematic posts, etc.” His response showed me that some things could arise in the sphere of social media that just aren’t readily accessible in person. Perhaps Trump’s presence on social media echoes my friend’s theory.
Finally, the merging of new media and politics ushers in a developing new wave of new media philosophy that scholars will discuss for elections to come. No longer will politics and media be regarded as separate spheres, but we will have to recognize their integration and seek to create systems for them to operate well together. WSJ’s BlueFeed RedFeed is a noteworthy example of this, as well as the flack that companies are now getting for posting false news. Regulation and synthesis will be cornerstones for the way these two decide to operate together and alongside one another. Is it too hopeful to look forward to a future where there’s no name-calling and slander, just civil, political discourse? Perhaps, but it’s a future worth seeking.