Millennials like myself may have been the last generation to experience a childhood without smartphones and social media, but we have certainly been sucked in to its endless information now. Like many others, I am active on the big three sites; Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
These site’s short text posts, memes, and videos are allowing people to gain information quicker than ever before. Within a few minutes I can read news articles, laugh at viral videos, check up with my friends, and read a meme about Donald Trump.
But, is this information overload actually sticking with me? I often find myself turning off my phone and wondering what I was just looking at for the last 15 minutes.
Social Media “expert” Jim Steyer told the Los Angeles Times that “In a world where everyone is addicted to cellphones, there’s less reflection.” Although people are accessing information at rates never seen before, they aren’t actually analyzing or absorbing it.
This leads to generalizations and allows users to easily be influenced to one opinion or another without knowing the facts.
Social media’s quick content encourages simple “yes” or “no” opinions, which has helped to polarized politics even further. Instead of researching all of the options, social media gives users a short video, meme, or unsupported statistic and expects users to make an opinion immediately by liking, sharing, or commenting on the post.
Trump has been using this lack of reflection to gain popularity in the 2016 election. His sporadic, opinion-based tweets have received viral attention. Despite the tweets nearly always lacking factual support, they force people to make an opinion on it. Either “Make America Great Again” or “#NeverTrump”. Regardless, the reactions cause the posts to trend, and they gain more exposure, and more quick opinions to be formed.
Like a reality TV show, this election has been all about popularity instead of the issues, and as Steyer put it, “Trump understands reality TV.” His celebrity persona gained him attention across social media and broadcast media. Whether the attention was good or bad, it allowed Trump to gather supporters.
Also, following a politician, cause, or biased news source can influence opinion’s simply by the nature of social media. This allows all of the information we are processing by social media to be molded into the scope of these accounts. For example, users following left-leaning accounts will never see a story about Donald Trump in a positive light, but those following Trump and his supporters will only see pro-Trump propaganda.
Consequently, the followers can inherently believe that everyone agrees with their opinions. This shared support then adds credibility to the cause, when in reality while the rest of the internet, and the country has their own opinions. This apparent credibility can be especially dangerous, when the campaign is built on opinion instead of fact.
Although potentially dangerous for our country, Trump has been able to build a credibility for himself among supporters without a political background or even endorsements from any of the living President’s.
Regardless of the cause, social media’s ability to rally people together is why a Forbes article considered social media as “the ideal vehicle to deliver messages asking for support.”