The reaction to the election of Donald Trump is as much a function of social media and its negative effects on the populace as anything the candidates did or said.
People like to say social networks, especially Facebook, are a great way to maintain relations with old high school chums and relatives you ditched when you were 20. In reality, if you wanted to stay in touch pre-Facebook, you found a way. Facebook makes it simpler, but not better.
In sales, there is a concept called “barrier to entry”; anything that gets between you, the salesperson, and a sale. From the salesperson’s point of view, the fewer the barriers, the better. One thing that used to make public discourse and opinion work well in society were the “barriers to entry” regarding the discussion between the public and a chosen writer, philosopher, pundit, journalist, or pamphleteer.
That barrier is long gone. While it still exists in specific old media like TV, it has been obliterated on the Internet, where all opinions are given an equal share. Twitter, in fact, gives a more prominent position to un-vetted loudmouths—who could be fake people for all you know.
Both Trump and Clinton used social media to stir up the masses. Trump is credited with having used Twitter to his advantage, but I followed this closely and I saw little difference between the two camps. One thing the battle accomplished was the polarization that worsened over time.
When people complain bitterly about the election, they often remark about losing friends. Lifelong friends no longer speak to each other; relationships severed with the click of the “unfriend” or “unfollow” button. Would this have taken place without social media? Doubtful.
Anyone involved in forums and newsgroups in the 1980s saw this coming. I first noticed it in 1993 with the advent of Internet comments. It was like a letter to the editor but focused on a lone essay on one Web page. There was no barrier to entry; the commenter could (and did) go on and on.
When done right, this was free, user-contributed content. But it easily deteriorated into various rants that were often more entertaining than the original article. If anything ruined the flow of the comments, it was uncontrolled spam promoting sketchy products.
The writing was on the wall. The public mob would have its cacophonous—often bigoted—opinions heard. Facebook and Twitter took different approaches to this phenomenon, but they opened the floodgates. It was just a matter of time before they affected an election. Luckily, the real overall democratic system for the US has not changed. We still have a complex balance-of-power federal republic holding fast.
But this election was the dry run for the real long-term influence of social media. Next time, it might result in a serious overthrow of the system; the end of society as we know it. In countries where that has almost happened, they have banned or severely limited the Internet.
This censorship is bound to become a trend. This election was a most unhealthy thing to witness. Facebook and Twitter, for sure, have got to go. We cannot go through this a second time.