Virtual Politics: the Rise of Trump
Tweets, Facebook posts, and YouTube videos have constituted the heart and soul of the 2016 US Presidential race, and functioned as the main source of information concerning the elections. Both candidates and citizens used social media outlets as the main debate platform, and engaged in a virtual frenzy of opinions, accusations, slandering, and assertions. Americans are not alone in this regard; it seems that across the globe politics has increasingly become an internet- based feature of life. But what are the ramifications of such a reality? What is the impact of virtual politics on human society? As Election Day is drawing near in the US, serious reflection is due on the nature of the debate, the behavior of the American people throughout it, and the role social media played in it.
It can be argued that the usage of social media as a political tool has its advantages. Through the internet, people have gained direct access to the political game. Citizens are able to raise their voice more easily, and express their feelings, insights, and concerns regarding the election campaign and government policies. In that respect, social media granted the presidential race a more humane aspect; it became somewhat of a conversation as opposed to an ongoing lecture by politicians. Alas, using social media as the primary method of communication on the political playground comes at a price.
In the Age of Facebook, the depth and quality of political debates have significantly deteriorated. Seeing as anyone can post a comment or Tweet, false or misleading information can be easily circulated among the public. Fact-checking and scrutinizing become increasingly difficult endeavors, as one’s timeline is inundated with swarms of opinions and reports. Inevitably, people’s understanding of the discussed issues is highly skewed since their perception is formed based on random, often unreliable, posts. Candidates are to blame, too: often very little thought and consideration is attributed to their social media content, but its impact unfortunately endures; they may trumpet lies, biased opinions, and fabrications which people will interpret as true. The Brexit incident is a clear example of that: voters across the UK proved to be completely ignorant about the policy they were supporting, and were generally unaware of the possible consequences of either staying or leaving the EU. In the US, Trump particularly has been noted to make harsh, reckless statements on social media, which included allusions to future political assassinations and incitement of violence towards racial and religious minorities.
Another problematic feature of social media-based politics is the frequency at which information is expected to be shared. Posts and Tweets are dispensed incessantly. Candidates cannot allow themselves to let an hour go by without making some type of comment on either their policies or fellow running mate. Thus, carefully crafted statements and insightful debates have been replaced with a barrage of mindless insults, vulgar comments, empty slogans, and an ocean of promises which seem very hard to keep. The relentless exchange of posts and Tweets have inevitably reduced people’s ability to critically observe the Race and exercise sound judgement with regard to the candidates and their statements. In the hyped-up dimension of social media, reason and logic give way to impulse and emotion, what inevitably leads people to succumb to bias, prejudice, and fear. Convincing millions of Americans that building a wall to keep Mexicans out and banning all Muslims from entering the US as legitimate policies might not have been such an easy task if the arguments supporting them were clearly laid out and explained in a calm, organised manner.
Social media has thus aided candidates like Trump in turning the Presidential race into a complete circus, in which insults are hurled senselessly, emotional burdens are unloaded without restraint, and the entertainment never ceases. At this game, Clinton loses miserably, and becomes a complete fun sponge. No one is truly in the mood for her numbing logic and practicality; “get outta the way and let the short-fingered buffoon continue his skit” the throng seems to be saying.
Finally, one could claim that social media has harmed the efficiency of citizens’ participation in politics, rendering it less direct and influential. Prior to the era of Facebook and Twitter, people took to the streets and engaged in all manners of protest when they felt leaders and policies failed to deliver justice. The question arises, then - do people’s voices echo as loudly when they Tweet? Do citizens make as much impact when they post a Facebook comment, shut off the computer, and curl up with a cup of coffee and Netflix?
Rather than a dramatic statement or a call for a specific action - it would be appropriate to seal this three-part reflection with a set of questions. How are we, those who see the folly and absurdity of it all, supposed to react? How can we, those who are frustrated by the hatred and ignorance and greed that stain the socio-political sphere, raise our voices effectively? How ca we avoid getting crippled by sarcasm and indifference?
How can we reach the ears of those who won’t listen?