10 Nov 2016
Social Media Lied To You During the Election (and it's your fault)
Were you shocked by the election of Donald Trump? Did you think everyone was going to vote your way? Do you feel blindsided because you personally don't 'know anyone that voted for him'?
My Facebook feed today, (and the days following the Brexit vote), is filled with such expressions of surprise.
"But everyone was going to vote against him", "no one I know would vote for trump", "how can this happen"...
Your feed told you were right all the way up to when the votes were counted, and your feed is now telling you that you are right to be shocked that you were wrong. "Shocked".
However - many other people's feeds today are filled with "how did SHE get so many votes", " I knew he would win", "people who voted against him must have been idiots". They "knew" he was going to win....
They "knew" they were right all along. THEY are shocked that it wasn't a landslide for him.
How can two different groups of people using the same social sites have two such differing experiences?
The reason is as old as days.
We tend to surround ourselves with people who think similar to us. 'Birds of a feather', and all that. If I remember back to my genetics degree, we have a pack instinct that operates for our survival. People who are most similar to us are most likely to help us in times of need and danger. This instinct carried through to our thoughts and feelings, and (unfortunately?), out into the world through social media.
You may share a social site with Trump supporters, but you probably don't share a social network. The people in your network think like you. They shared articles and wrote status messages that reaffirmed what you felt. You in turn passed those on, probably editing your choices based on just how aligned you were, until eventually, you have a swirling mass of sameness. As it bounced back and forth amongst your network, it grew stronger through repetition. You felt more and more right, you felt others were more and more wrong.
Perhaps you unfriended some people who were "wrong".
Perhaps you wrote something angry in response to messaging that wasn't convenient to you, and thought "yeah, that told them".
Perhaps afterwards you then went back to the comfy people in your network to feel affirmed about your personal views again. Those views that "just everyone" shares.
Yes, we have an extraordinary situation now with Trump, I am not criticizing nor supporting his views here, that's not my point. My point is that the trap you fell into was to isolate yourself from others who dare to have a different opinion to you. You read the same publications every day, you listened to the same news outlets, you liked the same memes, you 'debated' with the same groups of people....
You probably did not do anything that felt really uncomfortable. As Michael Moore asks in Trumpland, as a Clinton supporter can you name 10 good things about Trump, and as a Trump supporter, can you name 10 good things about Clinton?
No? Perhaps you don't understand the other side as you think you do then.
I am not claiming to have taken much of my own advice during this process; I am just the guy who spent a career in digital and happen to know enough to explain to you why it feels like your social media lied to you.
I did however go do something uncomfortable on the issue of gun laws so that I could be more informed about those. I live in CO, and whilst I don't own a gun here, I spent the evening at a gun club getting a concealed weapons permit, and I talked to the other people about why they were doing the same. I can tell you that their views were largely very different to mine, but I now know what they are and how they got to their reasoning.
It can feel hard to be wrong. It can feel uncomfortable to have your views challenged (especially if they are deep-rooted, multi-generational views), but you can't win a debate or really, truly change someone's opinion without empathy.
If you are angry and don't know where to challenge your energy, go start by getting under the skin of why people voted for Trump - especially why women, Muslims and black people voted for Trump. What is it about their lives that is so terribly bad that allowed them to look past the hatred and the personal attacks on their own kind, and vote for this man?
I don't know if he will make it the 4 years, or whether he will continue to be supported and get the full 8, but I do know that if you want a different outcome next time, you must understand why he has the support he does, and think about what you could do to help them so they don't feel he is their solution.
Oh, and be conscious of your social networks. If you don't ever see anything that makes you uncomfortable, your bubble is too small. Let alternatives in. And when you do get uncomfortable, embrace it, because it's going to be a learning experience for you. And the more you learn, the better equipped you are to get the outcome you want.