The United States elections are fast approaching and if current trends are anything to go by, this year’s election is set to be a controversial one. If one looks back at the previous election, social media was a major factor and Trump played the game beautifully. He knows his audience and knows that with a controversial statement here and there, he can rile up the masses.
Trump singlehandedly turned twitter into the most popular tool for presidential candidates to spread their word. After Trump won the 2016 elections, there were reports that his popularity was falsely magnified by bots. After his election, nearly 2000 twitter accounts went dark. This year, however, it seems as though Trump has some opposition to the social media playing field.
He is not the only one who is throwing snide insults and comments anymore. The first presidential debate was merely a live version of his social media antics. Nevertheless, Trump is not going to go down without a fight and social media is once again in the middle of this fight. The question is how the internet and social media is going to impact this year’s election.
The Twitter and TikTok effect
Not too long ago, there was a major push for TikTok to be banned in America and if Donald Trump gets his way, it would be gone tomorrow. Maybe it is because it poses such a major threat to him and his campaign. Trump is not the only one who is well-versed in social media spats and slander. Some of the heavier blows that he has recently received came at the hands of his former spokesperson’s fifteen-year-old daughter, Claudia Conway.
What makes Claudia’s tweets and TikTok videos so controversial and damning to the Trump campaign is because her mother, Kellyanne Conway, was the senior White House Advisor to the Trump administration. Claudia has been very outspoken about her views on Donald Trump and has publicly tweeted that no one hates Trump more than her.
Since her mother started working for Trump, she took a liberal leftist stance and opposes Trump around every corner. Her most recent TikTok videos were labeled “Save Barron 2020”, Trump’s youngest son. This video was aimed directly against one of Trump’s highest values of family. Claudia is of the opinion that Trump Ruined her life and that Barron is probably on the same road. This, coming from a girl who also said that her opinions have nothing to do with her parents, but her own self-education.
Although her mother has recently quit her position in the White House, Claudia is still active on Twitter and has a healthy following. Her tweets about Trump have been read millions of times and she also has over 250 000 followers. Not bad for a fifteen-year-old girl who is not afraid to speak her mind. However, her small following alone is not going to dethrone Trump. Other factors also have to be taken into account.
Getting down with the sickness
To add fuel to the fire, Trump was recently diagnosed with COVID-19, which in itself is not a career-ending thing to happen. What had the social media platforms on fire, though, was how casually and irresponsibly he treated the virus when going out for a drive to greet his supporters outside the hospital where he was being treated for COVID-19.
People were outraged about how he put the lives of the secret service personnel in danger as they were present with him in the car. Since Trump was diagnosed, it is reported that over 27 people in his circle have contracted the virus. Despite the CDC guidelines, Trump and his administration have defied them on numerous occasions. Although the drive was cleared by the medical team as being safe, people are skeptical nonetheless.
The news that Trump has or had COVID-19 spread like wildfire and his condition or the severity of his condition were under question, especially when his doctors and his chief of staff, Mark Meadows, reposted that his condition had improved overnight. Trump was admitted to the hospital almost directly after the presidential debate and three days later, looked as though he was going to be discharged.
The polls are against Trump and his dealing with the virus, and now, after being exposed to the virus himself, his shares dropped even further. For months, the US was at the top of the new COVID-19 infection list and many people believe that Trump was more interested in saving the economy than American lives. To date, over 7.4 million Americans tested positive for Corona and over 210 000 died across the US. These figures are a testament to Trump’s dealing with the virus and people were not impressed.
What does Facebook have to say?
The social media giant, Facebook also influences the election, especially when one considers the spread of the conspiracy theory group Qanon. When Trump was first elected, the group known as Qanon, was born.
According to them, Trump was waging a secret war with Satan-worshipping pedophiles. This was the only reason why he could upset the US political establishment. Since their first rants and theories, they have periodically posted conspiracy material that is aimed at inciting violence.
As Trump has openly called the BLM movement a symbol of hate, it would suggest that the people who fuel QAnon are pro-Trump. Given the nature of social media and the trend that people have less of a filter, they are beginning to make connections of their own and are now associating Trump with violence and hatred.
However, Facebook has now vowed to take down any pages or accounts that are remotely related to Qanon to stop the spread of violent propaganda and conspiracy. Whether they will follow through with their threat remains to be seen, but if they are capable of blocking and suspending conspiracies, the question remains as to why they cannot do the same for fake election news.
The Facebook Cambridge Analytica scandal
Facebook was responsible for one of the biggest data leaks in history when millions of Facebook users’ accounts and personal details were harvested without consent by Cambridge Analytica. The reason for the leak was mainly for political campaigns and advertising.
The harvesting was made possible with an app that was created by Dr. Aleksandr Kogan in 2013. In short, the app required users to answer a number of questions. Upon completion of the questionnaire, the app would build a psychological profile of the user. It would also then do the same for contacts of the user who completed the questionnaire. Cambridge Analytica then sought to sell the information that is gathered to political parties and their campaigns. I this case, the data would have assisted the campaigns of Ted Cruz and Donald Trump.
Not being able to keep it a secret any longer, Christopher Wylie came to the fore and disclosed the data leak in 2018 in interviews that he has with The Guardian and The New York Times. Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, then drafted a formal apology on behalf of Facebook for their involvement in the leak. To say the least, the public was not happy and the #DeleteFacebook movement was born. People lost their trust in the social media giant’s integrity, especially after it was revealed that the data was not deleted as they were instructed to do.
After the data leak fiasco, Zuckerberg apologized and seemed sincere when he said that he was to blame for what happened. He also stated that he was not doing enough to prevent fake news, foreign interference in elections, and hate speech from infiltrating Facebook.
Now that the election is once again around the corner, one has to wonder whether the feeds on Facebook are indeed real. It is very possible that Facebook still plays fiddle to the highest bidder, but one can imagine that they will be more discreet about their dealings in politics this time around.
COVID-19 and social media
This year, the US election’s playing field looks unlike anything in history. This is mainly due to the socially distant reality that America faces. The presidential candidates are not going door-to-door to win votes, so they are turning to social media to sway the masses. However, if history is anything to go by, misinformation is around every corner and the amount of false news is only getting worse.
Deep fakes have also taken hold and it is becoming increasingly difficult to decern the truth from false posts. This is dangerous grounds for the presidential candidates as there are hundreds of bots spreading false news. The news itself is not the problem, but more the fact that people in the US are more active on social media than ever before.
Given the polarized nature of the American voter, the false news that is spread on social media is aimed at further deepening the divide between the parties and removing the people even further from wanting to understand the opposition’s point of view.