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US Elections: The Strong & Subtle Influence of Social Media

US Elections: The Strong & Subtle Influence of Social Media
Social media is one such methodology that will drive a significant change.

As protests erupt across America, reminiscent of an upset population from the Arab Spring, Turkey issues a travel advisory to its citizens; that it is unsafe to travel to some parts of the United States of America.

Ever since the surprise win of President-elect Trump, parts of the nation have come crumbling down. From ethnically white school children chanting ‘Build the wall build the wall’ while non-white school children cower in the corner of their school cafeteria, to visible stereotyped men and women being harassed for ‘looking’ as if they are Muslim, Black, Hispanic, etc.

Often the butt of much criticism, the Muslim world is targeted for its negative attitude towards women; certainly at times there is truth in this, from women being abused just walking down the streets of Egypt, to honor killings in Pakistan, even being unable to drive in Saudi Arabia. But when a man who builds his campaign on hate is pitted against the prospect of the first female President of the USA, she loses; and surprisingly, to the white woman voter who elected Trump instead.

President Obama was considered a visionary for soliciting the influence of social media to drive his campaigns.  President-elect Trump built on his success exploiting short-format content with oft repeated sound bites, however true or false, to garner support.

Social media is changing the world

Appealing to the 140 character generation on Twitter – despite being removed from posting on his account by his own staff just prior to the election date – Trump’s policy approach seemed much the same: short, brief, often inaccurate and devoid of substance. But actually this is what his supporters wanted to hear.

So enraged by the rich becoming richer, they believed Trump to be their Robin Hood, a Knight in Shining Armor, preaching national pride, a return to opportunity, while scapegoating entire populations, laying blame on them for the ills the ‘everyday’ – read ‘white’ – American, faced.

The reality of life no longer mattered. An ideal, an objective was identified, and any means necessary – through words – would be employed to achieve it, no matter the harm caused.

People were sold the American dream. For many, it was not attainable, and so in desperation with pride, they sought to secure it. Trump’s anti-establishment rhetoric sounded wonderful, but within just a few days of the election, he populates his transition team from those within the establishment, demonstrating what little substance there is to anything he says.

Facebook too has come under criticism. Amongst the many algorithms they use to fill member’s newsfeed are those which deliver content that is relevant only to you and your friends. Meaning that if you are liberally inclined, your newsfeed will have more liberal news content; and if you are conservative, more conservative content.

In this way, individuals on both sides were kept unaware of news relating to the opposite side. You would see what Facebook wanted you to see, which to an extent is helpful, but in doing so they too played a part in shaping awareness of election issues.

Off-line, campaigns have begun to discourage brands from advertising in tabloid publications that promote hatred. The #StopFundingHate campaign has already encouraged Lego to withdraw advertising from a leading UK newspaper, and this is set to grow. Part of this movement is fuelled by the striking parallels to Hilter’s own efforts to secure power.

An article in the NY Times from 1922 says that ‘Hilter’s anti-Semitism was not so genuine or violent as it sounded.’ We hear much the same from the conservative press regarding Trump’s approach. Yet as he begins to fill his inner circle with ultra conservative right wing career politicians, one wonders and voters weary of a repeat, efforts are under way to remove significant sources of income from publications that push hatred.

Earlier this year at London Fashion Week, Vogue magazine became visibly upset at bloggers for being able to create content and distribute it faster – and sometimes better – than they could, to a large audience. In my own capacity on a trip to Amsterdam, I demonstrated with just two photographs the ability to reach a higher distribution than the bi-annual print publication from the tourism board. Social media is changing the world.Trump Screen_Shot_2016_11_06_at_6.26.45_PM

Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, Instagram and others, are all first generation social media platforms. They all rely on User Creation but are steered by various forms of data management. As each platform seeks to monetize itself, be it paid reach with Facebook fan pages, or promoted posts on Twitter, the everyday person, is now getting a voice. And this is important.

Before, politicians were placed behind gate-keepers. Today, any of us can reach one directly through social media. This changing landscape makes us wonder why if Clinton won the popular vote, as in highest number-count of votes, could Trump have become elected? Meaning that if every person does have a voice, why is the American system of the Electoral College, which discriminates against individual vote tallies, is still being used?

As technologies improve, more data becomes available, and information flows better, individuals seek direct accountability. Social media is one such methodology that will drive a significant change.

Would America become great again?

During the election, Trump rally cried out repeatedly, that he would make America great again. As with every industry that has to change, to adapt to innovation, perhaps the election of Trump will push the American public to demand a better electoral system?

While Trump exploited short format Tweets for delivering his campaign, the reality on the ground is that running the USA, indeed running any nation, requires much more than bursts of 140 characters.

Superficial pandering, along with racist xenophobic labeling, only go so far. And it is only a question of time before Trump is exposed as a fraud – a conclusion that many political commentators have reached given the nature of his rise. It is simply unsustainable.

When those who supported his ticket understand that much of what he said cannot be delivered, it will be a harsh reality check, leaving them lost, worsening their targeting and blame, for they too will also lash out.

To some, raw spoken words are a measure of what makes America America. Straight-talking they call it. It builds your character how they rationalize it. But as St Ambrose of Milan once said, ‘No one heals himself by wounding others.’

The Germans were utterly repulsed by this recent campaign. They have seen the approach before and its outcome wasn’t very good. So I fear for the Americans who have yet to understand this, have to go through the motions, before they realize that what actually made America great, was the diversity, forward-thinking nature, and innovation driving spirit of the nation. The opposite to the cowardice of inciting hatred based on ethnicity, gender orientation, of faith, which was the cornerstone of this recent election campaign.

The only positive in all of this is that the years of negativity targeting the Muslim world for its sexism and racism have been quashed, for these unjust values are alive and well in the USA.

And food for thought; Is it not an irony that while the USA’s foreign policy seeks to instill the values of democracy around the world, that almost half of the nation did not even bother to vote?

Not only does this  show how complacent we as human beings become when we have it – comparatively – so good, but that far too many American ‘white’ women have come to expect such low standards from men, that they have normalized Trump’s misogyny, becoming indifferent to it. It’s proof that they must demand better standards from their politicians for America to indeed become great again.

 


About Farrukh Younus

Farrukh I Younus has a background in mobile phone strategy across Europe and Asia, and has visited China on more than 25 occasions. Dedicated to understanding and delivering solutions based on new technology, Younus has spoken on the subject to the EU in Brussels, and regularly attends industry-leading conferences. He currently runs a video platform, Implausibleblog, delivering lifestyle content via social media; where his focus is on understanding consumer behaviour with regards to digital content and digital advertising. His interests include travel, nouvelle cuisine, and chocolate.

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