Donald Trump and the social media campaign we didn’t want

Someone finally harnessed the Internet for a political campaign. Unfortunately, it’s Donald Trump, the Internet’s media-proof id.

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump takes a selfie with a supporter as he prepares to leave a campaign event in Anderson, South Carolina October 19, 2015. (Chris Keane/Reuters)

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump takes a selfie with a supporter as he prepares to leave a campaign event in Anderson, South Carolina October 19, 2015. (Chris Keane/Reuters)

Near the end of this year’s federal election in Canada, The Globe and Mail’s social and earned media columnist, Mia Pearson, lamented that #elxn42, as it was known online, was “not really the social media election we were promised”. One couldn’t help feel, Pearson wrote, that “the underutilization of social media in general was a big miss for many Canadian politicians, given the mass millennial audience the election saw.”

The unicorn hunt for a “social media election,” or “social media campaign,” began sometime after 2008, when Barack Obama appeared to harness the Internet on his way to a sweeping, historic victory. Canada was quick to wonder whether we’d be so lucky as to have one for ourselves very soon.

In actual fact, we have had a social media campaign—the one that just passed, where it was put to its most relevant function for political parties: hardcore data mining. But that’s not what we were promised. What we, the electorate, were promised sounded more like this: “More important is tracking what people are thinking, what the big issues are of the day, what folks are sharing with their friends and what not.” That’s how New Democrat communications director Drew Anderson explained that party’s livetracking of Twitter in the lead-up to the 2011 election. “That is the stuff that politics is about and we see it as a big part of our campaign to be in those conversations.”

By the time Pearson wrote her op-ed this October, social media’s role in a Canadian political campaign looked somewhat different than it had been imagined four years ago. The promise of purer democracy, or of political parties reacting to real-time comments and issues popping up online, had all but vanished. Instead, we were reminded what politics is really about, and what online conversations actually sound like. Story after story emerged and party candidates all over the country dropped out, embarrassed by things they once said online. The crank callerThe comment-section sexistThe foul-mouthed youngsterThe marijuana advocate. There were others. This wasn’t political disruption from the bottom-up. This wasn’t the promised land. This was a control-F ratf–king speed battle. This was a shallow dive into the true nature of the Internet.

Maybe we got off lucky. Maybe we should be thankful that it was only this bad. Because, as we’re seeing in the U.S., where the promise of a social media campaign was born, that dive can go a lot deeper. And the one tool we have as a society to lift us back out, can’t.

Donald Trump poses a conundrum for those trying to cover him: How do you deal with a politician for whom gaffes are not gaffes, but are instead the only thing he ever says? It’s actually not a new question, but one media organizations have faced for years, and the fact that they never found a way to answer it properly is the reason they’re impotent to Trump’s raving now.

Recognizing their profit margins slipping (or disappearing), up against tighter budgets, and desperate to draw bigger advertising cash from their online content, news outlets did what they could over the last near-decade to draw more and more hits to their websites. But eyeballs are not the only important metric; time spent on the site is, too, as are return visits—in other words, engagement. Twitter and Facebook became new outreach tools to trawl for readers, and where replies and comments have become an easy, if flawed, way to gauge interest in content. This hunt for visits—at its peak creating a viral event—and prime advertising metrics is part of the reason why comment threads and @replies weren’t just tolerated, but in many cases, actively encouraged. The altruistic reason given was the same as the one politicians offered: democratization of the conversation. The other, more pragmatic reason was money.

The end result, as it was with Canada’s political campaign, was not democratic perfection—in this case, it has been a loss of control. Media outlets, and reporters specifically, quickly learned to never look below the line, and to rarely engage with commenters or tweeters, as they are, for the most part, the lunatic fringe. The crazies are easily dismissed, but over time, cumulatively, social media and comment threads, while changing coverage of events, have also altered our interpretation of that coverage. They have worked to undermine the validity of the news media’s voice, ironically all while those very outlets hosted and, by extension, validated them in turn.

And it’s all tolerated because media outlets have, crucially, never been able to fully eradicate, or moderate, the abusive and vile or merely ignorant comments below stories, on Facebook pages, or Twitter. Bulls–t, in all its irrational unreality, is simply un-moderate-able.

Which, of course, brings us back to Trump, the bullsh–ter-in-chief, the man whose gaffes are not merely slips of the tongue, but a precise echo of the sort of things you’d normally only find in an online comment thread or on the fringes of Twitter. The kind of thing, in other words, that news media helped create for years for their own interests, and wound up not being able to counteract. This is what makes Trump so impossible to cover in a traditional news sense: What we’re watching isn’t merely the media taking on Donald Trump; it is, once again, the news media taking on the Internet. Predictably, it’s not going well. It never has.

This is what a “social media campaign” really looks like. Those of us wishing to finally get one for ourselves, and those in the media especially, should be careful what we wish for.


Donald Trump and the social media campaign we didn’t want

  1. Oh boy! The Left and Right lawmakers are pulling out all the stops in attacking Donald Trump. It’s not going to make any difference to me, since my vote is not floating and is ONLY going to Trump in 2016. Family, friends, and some old soldiers like me, will just stay clear of the Elections. Certainly I am not voting for Bill Clinton’s spouse, because she has not a single honest bone in her body? Jeb Bush is the last GOP elitist who would never get my vote, as he is spending millions to crush Trumps run, using dirty attack ads. Even worse how can John Kasich say for certain that Donald Trump will never be the nominee, or has the Republicans some unethical trick up their sleeve to engineer the Election?

    In California we previously know that the General election could easily be fixed, as the Democrats have inserted in the citizen voting application, the ‘Motor Voter Bill’ Just a few months ago Governor ‘Moonbeam’ Brown approved Drivers Licenses to illegal aliens, that has become a larger majority in California. A few other states have undermined federal law and choose to give illegal immigrants/ migrants the right to drive. However, the Jerry Brown organization has gone one step forward and added the MVB. With this application adjoined would allow illegal aliens to vote–intentionally or blind to the fact that it is a felony. I see it as a way to get around the election law, in knowingly give a win to Hillary Clinton–a criminal enterprise that is likely to be covered up.

    http://www.rasmussenreports.com/ newsletter should be checked out, as this is the most highly regarded polling you that is not influenced by the GOP establishment or Democrats There allies in the heavily biased mainstream media in either political parties have now at the top of their agenda to disrupt Donald Trump as nominee. Almost in unison Jeb Bush with his buckets of money is swarming the airwaves in the first caucus states with rhetoric and half truths. Hillary Clinton as we know has established herself as untrustworthy and is feeding the people a narrative of pledges, which she hopes will appease the insecure with future benefits.

    Whereas Trump really stands out as he has not altered his promises, such as building the Southern Wall and MANDATORY E-VERIFY to end illegal aliens working and business owners who ignore the law, which will be held accountable. The Billionaire is a far stronger icon for our nation, then any of the others–except for Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and his outstanding, a minority man battle in congress against the now 15 million plus illegal immigrant/ migrant invaders for amnesty. Like Trump Cruz his loyalty cannot be purchased by rich donors or the lobbyists, who buy Washington politicians for their affluent masters.

    Its obvious to me that Hillary Clinton will not be held accountable, as we have seen with the majority of the hierarchy of elected officials. What usually happens such as the chief administrators at the Veterans Administration never faced punishment for their encompency in setting up appointments for Vets. Thousand allegedly died or fell seriously ill for the failure and yet they got a slap on the hand and were just moved to another agency?

    There is a huge graft system in Washington on both sides of the aisle and that is while Donald Trump has been ostracized, because no wealthy donor can touch him. They have tried, but turned away. They are furious as the lobbyists, who are hired by wealthy corporate entities,

    Obama’s Liberal Political Correct Policing is indirectly responsible for the bloody massacre in San Bernardino, California. Reviewing the neighbors residing next to the killers had some early signals that something was amiss at the apartment. There was something odd in the comings and goings of Middle Eastern men carries packages. But because the ongoing presence of PC Police, average Americans have been nervous of speaking out to the local authorities. Americans had been slapped down by the Obama Leftist radicals that has an unprecedented success in dividing the country, owing to the PC Police humiliating any individual who speaks out when being called a Xenophobe, racists, a bigot they chose to say nothing or something choice.

    If this uncontrollable President, State Department, and Homeland Security are determined to bring in these Syrian Refugees, we are certainly open to a heavy risk of attack by extreme Jihardists. Even though it would be relatively easier to keep the Refugees in a safe zone, until the conflict ceases. It would be a less costly affair to pay for their needs in or around Iraq or Syria. Use a peace keeping force to safeguard them, giving the job to the United Nations. Since Obama won the Oval office he has carried the grave shadow of not following the law. He has besmirched our immigration system, by bypassing the regulations and determining everybody is welcome–illegal or not?

    The Democrats shot themselves in the foot, as millions who have entered here are costing taxpayers, including citizens and permanent green card holder’s immense amounts in taxes. There is no true $$$ figures offered for the families of ‘Anchor Babies” or the millions of illegal welfare aliens, as both the feds and state governments keep under a veil of silence the real costs. It’s disgusting that our own wounded warriors have been ignored, including their families while this administration dishes out EBT food stamp cards to aliens.

    Senior Citizens should pay attention that you have been disregarded with no new dollars for your Social Security check, as Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) has been disregarded. Yet illegal alien families collect more of your money, even though you’re entitled to it, after working for it all your life before retirement.


    Donald Trump is the ONLY chance we have left, to put the train back on the rails, instead of derailing our future once again. Trumps power comes from not being bought and paid for? He is abrupt–sure, his explanations are coarse–sure. He is not as articulate as the Senate and House puppets of big business and the slippery tongue politicians who dance to their tune. If you want the truth and not the fanciful diarrhea from those in Congress, then click on Judicial Watch at http;//www.judicialwatch.org and the corruption sheltered by the mainstream press. It’s your passport to investigate the thievery, bribes and money seduction by those we vote for?

  2. The media routinely champions this idea of the “social media campaign”, and reminds how it will put government in closer touch with “the people”. Then, you scurry like cockroaches in the light from the things that “the people” remind you that government needs to address.
    Climate change is so far down the list of major concerns of the populace that it’s essentially a rounding error. What does the media and big government focus on? Climate change.
    Most Canadians will tell you we don’t need an inquiry into missing and murdered native women. What does the media and government insist we need? A multi-million dollar inquiry to give us the answers we already have.
    Canadians will tell you we need to deal with high taxes. What does the media and big government promote? More government agencies and higher taxes.
    Most Canadians think that the government is rushing headlong into the acceptance of 50,000 Syrian refugees (You know, it seemed like it was only 25,000 just weeks ago. Funny how that changes.) with little or no regard to the very real security concerns. What do the media and government do? Call us racists and double down.
    I could go on for pages, but, like it or not, the Donald Trump phenomenon is the direct result of decades of liberal/progressive media championing liberal progressive polices that don’t work and the liberal progressive politicians behind them. We have been trying to tell you for decades that we don’t want your progressive crap, but you guys ain’t listening. Look at you balance sheets people.
    The single biggest reason we don’t buy your magazines any more is that we weren’t going to pay good money to have you give us the NDP/Liberal party line. Why do you think newspaper readership is in free-fall? We’re tired of your left wing echo chamber, so we’re done.
    Here’s a classic example. In the midst of all this race-baiting over Trump, how many of you have taken the time to compare Trump’s call for a moratorium on Muslim immigration to Jimmy Carter’s order to deport 50,000 Iranian students for exactly the same reason millions of Americans and Canadians feel we should pause in our rush to accept more Muslims into countries whose basic, fundamental ideals are anathemic to Islamic values? How does one action make Trump a racist, and the other leave Carter unscathed? They’re the exact same thing.
    How does one mental defective mass murderers affinity for the Confederate flag justify the demonization of that flag, and scores of tributes of varying kinds to the leadership of the Confederacy (tombs, statues, memorial parks, etc) while we’re expected to avoid making any remote connection between mainstream Islam and supposedly mainstream Muslims who commit mass murder? Yet, that’s exactly what many in the media ask us to do, ALL THE TIME.
    Why is it that no one in the mainstream Canadian media is asking who the hell is Saima Jamal, and why is she on Calgary’s Sryian refugee welcoming committee? Why did none of YOU PEOPLE question why she was part of Team Justin in Calgary?
    Sorry, buckwheat, but you guys created Trump. Don’t blame us if you don’t like it.

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