How Did Social Media Replace The News? (Hint: Donald Trump.)
So, earlier this week I learned to my great shock and surprise that the money I had invested in Facebook stock, which I thought was being invested in a not-for-profit agency that was doing all the good things that not-for-profit agencies do, was actually invested in a for-profit company whose management made decisions based on what would drive up the value of my stock.
How could I have been so stupid not realize that the company which was basically responsible for the appearance and growth on the internet of something known as social media wasn’t in the game to make a buck? After all, every time I clicked on Facebook, I was inundated by ads, but it never occurred to me that all that messaging about skin creams and vitamin supplements had anything to do with me. I thought Facebook was brining me that information as a public service, right?
Know who figured out the value and strength of social media before anyone else? Donald Trump, that’s who.
Way back in the early 1980’s, I was sitting in my apartment in New York City watching the local news. After the usual stories about this armed robbery in The Bronx or a hit-and-run in Brooklyn, there was a reporter interviewing Donald Trump who was standing at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge. And the interview was basically Trump announcing that he was prepared to repair the bridge, which was falling apart, if the City of New York would let him buy the Brooklyn Bridge.
This was a news event? This was nothing more than Trump getting some free time to promote himself on TV. And this was close to forty years before he ran for President in 2016.
But in 2016, Trump not only got all kinds of free advertising on Fox and other so-called news channels, he also used social media venues in the same way. And that’s because Trump was the first national politician who realized that social media was becoming the way in which lots of Americans, maybe a majority of Americans, got their news.
What I have seen since 2016, and it continues to the present day, is that what should be a very clear boundary between news media and social media has completely collapsed. In the olden days, we assumed that what the news media reported was based on some kind of reportage which followed basic rules of honesty and validity, whereas nobody’s kidding themselves about the validity of anything that appears on social media sites.
The problem is that ever since Reagan de-regulated TV news back in the 1980’s and got rid of what is known as the ‘fairness doctrine,’ the TV stations can say whatever they want without worrying about whether what they say is true or not. In this case, the word ‘true’ means whether the reportage is slanted to the Right or to the Left.
Social media, on the other hand, has not yet come under scrutiny for whether what they say is fair, or honest, or anything else. Which is why the Facebook whistleblower was called to testify earlier this week. Because the one thing that every private business goes out of its way to avoid is government regulators breathing down their necks.
I don’t think the issue of regulating social media would have become such a big deal were it not for how Trump brought social media into the political mainstream and was rewarded for his efforts by being booted off Twitter after the D.C. riot on January 6th. At the time, Trump claimed that he didn’t need to use Twitter any longer, except that last week his asked a judge in Florida to re-open his Twitter account.
I also think that the influence of social media on politics is overstated and here’s the reason why. Trump was elected President in 2016 because he flipped three blue states (MI, PA, WI) by a margin of less than 2/10ths of one percent of the total votes cast in those three states. For the mid-terms in 2018, Trump held more than sixty rallies and told the crowds that the election was a plebiscite on him. The GOP did gain 3 Senate seats in 2018, but lost forty-one seats in the House, the biggest net gain by Democrats in forty-four years.
Uhhh, we know what happened last year. I love how after the election, Trump boasted that no incumbent President had ever received more than seventy million votes. Of course, no Presidential challenger had ever previously received eighty million votes.
Trump’s statement about getting so many votes in 2020 is typical of the way that social media has redefined the whole notion of news. Because it doesn’t matter what you say on social media, as long as you get heard. And if Congress decides to impose some rules on how the owners of social media must behave, social media venues will become as boring as the evening news on CBS or NBC.
It was during the 1950’s that everyone replaced their radios with TV. It then took another forty years for everyone to get hooked up to the internet and then thirty years later we all had iPhones and droids.
How long will it take for everyone to use 5G technologies so that we can get our information from robotic venues managed with AI? We’ll see.