I remember my first encounter with you. I was a mischievous 12-year-old boy who was one day told by my parents that I was not allowed to have a Myspace account. Of course, the next day I set up a Myspace (R.I.P). My parents so graciously blessed me with a last name as a first name, giving me the perfect online pseudonym for my profile “Bill Anders”. I was inevitably caught by my tattletale older sister who was compelled to tell my parents after being so upset that I did not list her as a top friend on my profile. Although my aspirations to be a Myspace user were squandered all too quickly, I found myself hooked like so many others; hooked by the type of social gratification one gets while interacting with a fellow online user.
My initial thoughts about social media then and to this day remain the same. Social media is amazingly powerful: it has sparked revolutions, aided in the recruitment of terrorist organizations, saved lives through crowdfunding initiatives, and has ultimately proven that it can move people both literally and figuratively. I want to dive into an example of this power that is both timely and controversial, two fundamental components rooted in all social media platforms. The example is that of the presidential election (roll your eyes now). I will attempt to leave political bias out of this example, yet I know all who read this will try to find it, because I would too.
On November 8th, 2016, millions of Americans were dumbfounded to find that preliminary and exit polls which largely favored Hillary Clinton to become president were incorrect; leading to the election of Donald Trump.
Who wasn’t surprised?
Social media analytic firms who tracked Trump’s online engagement throughout the election. It was unclear whether or not the likes and reposts that Trump’s social media handles were receiving would translate to votes. Regardless, his follower base unarguably grew throughout the election and became increasingly engaged. Ironically, the spikes he received in his follower base actually resulted from the worst days during his campaign. For example, on October 7th, the same day a tape was released with President Trump saying remarks like, “I moved on her like a bitch”, “Grab them by the p—–“, and “I did try and f— her”, his twitter followers grew more than any other day up until Election Day itself (see image below).
While Hilary was outspending Trump in almost every field, Trump received an uncanny amount of “free support” through dozens of media outlets who couldn’t get enough of the nominee’s behavior on social media. His social media strategy… be as rash and controversial as possible, and it worked well enough to get him into the Oval Office with nicknames like “President Twitter” and “Commander in Tweet”. The question that was then being asked at this time was whether or not this type of social media activity would continue once Trump’s Administration took power. Would Trump continue to use social media as a way of pushing forward his agenda?
The answer to that question was… are you kidding me!?!? Of course he will continue tweeting. Since inauguration just a week ago, the Trump Administration has already come under fire for its handling of social media. Press Secretary Sean Spicer has quickly found himself in hot water after remarks about an “egregious” false tweet by a reporter indicating that the bust of MLK was removed from the Oval Office. Press Secretary Spicer continued by addressing apparent “false reporting” about the attendance of the inauguration. He stated that due to wide fencing, floor panels over the grass, and the inability of workers to actually count attendees all attributed to the “inaccurate” reporting of the crowd’s size. These were all fact checked by third-parties and found to be false, when asked for comment, the White House stated that Spicer’s remarks came from “alternative facts“… with no explanation of what that really means.
These remarks come as the first official interaction with the general public and the newly appointed Press Secretary Spicer, beckoning the question of whether these two matters are really of utmost importance to the future of America. Those in the Twitterverse who could not contain the irony of a Press Secretary scolding reporters for fake news while also reporting fake news himself, fired back and did so in a sweepingly playful fashion. The barrage of tweeters even got #SpicerFacts to go viral:
Even more recently, Trump has announced a ban on the EPA that would stop them from giving social media updates. Some organizations took this as a direct limitation to their freedom of speech and responded with factual tweets about climate change:
Looking Forward into the Misinformation Revolution
Companies like Facebook, who took heavy fire for their role as a medium in the spread of fake news during the election, have taken necessary action to include more self-policing software into their platform. While this is a step into decreasing the amount of fake news that is available for all to read, it is merely a drop in the bucket. With the sheer abundance of information on social media and its ability to be wildly misinterpreted, the future relationship between Trump and his handles remains unclear. With all of this said, and continuing to take an unbiased approach, it is paramount that the general public does everything that they can to fact check the information they receive. “Alternative facts” may have the power of misleading the public and it is our duty as tweeters, facebookers, and googlers to do our civic duty.