Imagine Donald Trump becoming president. Then, imagine that happening on your 21st birthday. Two pretty awful things to imagine, right? Well, both of these happened to me. (Disclaimer: Though I did vote for Hillary, my feelings toward the election are mostly based upon my abhorrence of Trump, not extreme love for her. I mean this blog post as a personal reflection, a not political statement.)
Since the results of the election have been announced, I’ve run through the gamut of negative emotions: fear, sadness, anger, resentment, and more. It blows my mind that someone who has made enough negative comments about women, Muslims, Mexicans, disabled people, and many other groups, to warrant being fired from pretty much any high-paying job, has actually been promoted to the most important one in the world. Not to mention, before winning, he had no concrete plans for accomplishing any of his promises if he were to get elected. Now that he has been, it’s unclear what he plans on doing for our country or how he plans on doing it. I don’t think history has ever seen a candidate so unprepared to hold the highest office in the land. But I digress.
Almost as upsetting as the election result itself is how many are pointing the finger at social media for being somewhat responsible. As a somewhat early adopter of Facebook and Twitter, I have grown to appreciate the influence both have over our culture, society, and our individual lives. While I always knew there were possible dangers of this massive influence, I never considered that they had the power to potentially sway the outcome of a presidential election. Experts point the finger at two components of social media that may have done just that: filter bubbles and fake news. We discussed both of these and their role in the election in class, so in this post, I thought I’d focus on the two major roles social media has played since the election’s outcome: organization and hope.
On the night of Wednesday, November 9th, anti-Trump protests grew across the country, mostly in major cities. Although the protestors cannot necessarily do anything to change the election’s outcome, they organized together to show their solidarity in opposing Trump’s beliefs and actions; perhaps to send the signal that he will not be able to enact unfair policies without widespread backlash from American citizens. These protestors used social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to spread the word about these protests and inspire people to come. As of noon Wednesday, the Boston Globe reported that an anti-Trump rally in Boston had 2,500 RSVP’d as “attending” and another 6,400 as “interested” on Facebook. That night, about 4,000 people attended. Unfortunately, there were some controversial anti-Trump protests across the country that involved violence and flag-burning. However, for people interested in organizing peaceful protest, social media is a vital tool, and helps draw attendee numbers that could not be reached otherwise.
Another example of how people have used social media to organize since the election is through the Facebook group Pantsuit Nation. Before the election, this “secret” group was home to one million Hillary supporters, who connected over their beliefs in Hillary and Election Day selfies. Ever since Trump’s win, it has grown to over three million members, and has begun to serve a virtual support group. Women and men have shared their feelings of sadness, grief, fear, and disappointment about the election results. While there were a few days of nonstop sadness on the page, in the last day or so, it has served as a source of galvanization. Members of Pantsuit Nation have actually met in person across the country to share their plans for fighting for the same things that Hillary did. Pantsuit Nation has brought people together to support and listen to one another, in a way that may not have been possible without social media.
During this uncertain time, many Americans (probably a good majority of the 50 million+ who didn’t vote for Trump), are scared. They’re wondering if a Trump presidency will mean a loss of rights for them and their friends, an increase in violence and hatred, and/or another world war. While perhaps the only thing that would eliminate this fear entirely would be a different election outcome, various posts I’ve seen on social media have helped inspire hope among people who feel that hope is lost. The most viral of these so far is when a Hillary supporter, named Margot Gerster, hiking in Chappaqua, New York, actually ran into the Democratic nominee in the woods. “Heartbroken” over the election, she told Hillary that bringing her daughter with her to vote for her was one of the best moments of her life. Bill Clinton took a photo of the women together, and Gerster shared it on Facebook, where it quickly spread like wildfire to various news outlets. For defeated Clinton supporters, this photo served as a sign of hope; if Hillary’s still smiling after such a crushing loss, perhaps we can too.
Though the next four years appear grim, and I didn’t get my birthday wish of seeing Trump give a humiliating concession speech, I hope that social media will bring some light into the world. If there’s one thing I’ve learned this week, it’s that it certainly has the power to do so; whether it will harness that power for good remains to be seen.