Social networks are out to be more encompassing and controlling, more totalizing, than earlier media ever was.
Emotional appeals can be good for politics. They can spur civic involvement and they can galvanize public attention, focusing it on injustices and abuses of power. But there’s a dark side to social media’s emotionalism. Trump’s popularity took off only after, playing to the public’s frustrations and fears, demonizing Mexican immigrants and it worked.
The fact that experienced politicians are having trouble fitting themselves into the new mold is not unusual. Whenever a new medium upends the game, veteran politicians struggle. They go on playing by the old medium’s rules. They continue to follow the conventions of broadcast TV. They assume that television will establish the campaign’s talking points, package the race as a series of tidy stories and shape the way voters see the contestants. They may have teams of digital representatives tending to their online messaging, but they still view social media as a complement to TV coverage, a means of reinforcing their messages and images, rather than as the campaign’s driving force.
News organizations, too, tend to be slow to adapt to the arrival of a new medium. In the past, television, gave a theatrical rhythm to political campaigns. Each day was an act in a broader drama. Political campaigns were “narratives,” they had “story lines.” Social media is different. There is no narrative; there is no story line. There is no context. As a result, today’s political campaign reports are often out of sync with the public’s opinion and reaction and to events.
As an example, In July 2015, when Trump kicked dirt on John McCain’s reputation saying, “He’s not a war hero, I like people who weren’t captured,” in print and on TV, this comment received ample saturation coverage, but the narrative never advanced and far from apologizing, Trump kept attacking. While the tweets piled up, the public’s attention buzzed to newer things, and the story died even before it became a story. With Social media, we are entering a post-narrative world of campaigning greatly circumscribing and overtaking the power of traditional media in stage-managing political races.
Rather than narrating stories, newscasters are now reading tweets.
The Internet was intended as a participative tool, as a force for democratization. Early digital enthusiasts expected that the web would engender a deeper national conversation. This was absolutely wishful thinking and daydreaming. Already in the early days of the Social networks there were signs that online media were to promote and encourage a restless mob mentality. People were skimming headlines and posts, seeking information to reinforce their biases while rejecting any contrary perspectives and viewpoints contradicting their opinions. Even today and more ever than ever, public information gathering is still further tribalistic than pluralistic. Blog authors and blog readers, even more than ever, are now exclusively gravitating toward digital content that will reinforce their biases, their opinions and convictions. Originally intended to be a force for participation and democratization, the Internet is now the perfect tool for discrimination, segregation and ghettoization.
If there is one thing that the Internet achieved and Social media reinforced, it is the polarizing effect that broadcast media, particularly talk radio and cable news, had been having for many years. Today, Social media is turning out to be more encompassing and controlling, more totalizing, than earlier media ever was. Today, social networks like Facebook, Twitter and Google do not only regulate the messages people receive, they also regulate their responses thus seriously influencing public opinion.
Social networks and media are now shaping the forms of our discourse.
Facebook feeds us with a cascade of messages selected by their News Feed algorithm, and we are provided with a set of prescribed ways to react to each one of these messages. We can click a Like button; share the message with our friends or comment. On Twitter, we can either reply, retweet or favorite and, any thought we express has to fit a tight text limit. Google News also presents us a series of headlines underlining the latest trending stories. It then provides a row of buttons for sharing the headlines either on Google Plus, Twitter or Facebook.
All social networks without exception are now imposing these formal constraints and limitations on what we see, what we read and on how we can respond, none of these restrictions having anything to do with promoting public interest. All these constraints and limitations only reflect the commercial interests of the companies and service providers operating the Social network as well as the specific protocols of their software programming. While the systematic formulaic quality of the Social media is well suited to the chitchat and gossiping that takes place among friends, when applied to politics and the political speech, these same constraints are nothing else than pernicious, inspiring insignificance rather than wisdom and enlightenment.
JMD is an enthusiastic writer, columnist and social activist who most enjoys evolving in complex interactive situations.