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Can we stop blaming Facebook for American stupidity?

Published Nov 15th, 2016 1:55PM EST
Donald Trump

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On January 20, 2017, Donald Trump, a man with absolutely zero political or military experience, will be sworn in as the 45th President of the United States. In just about two months, Donald Trump, a man with a history of questionable business dealings and a penchant for making inflammatory and utterly nonsensical remarks will become the most powerful man in the world.

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Without equivocation, the election of Donald Trump sent shockwaves of disbelief rippling through liberal and even conservative circles, prompting many to search far and wide for an explanation that could possibly make sense of what was an extremely unlikely run for the Oval Office

One explanation currently finding favor amongst the media holds that Facebook helped tilt the election in favor of Donald Trump because of its inability or unwillingness to identify fake news stories and remove them as quickly as possible. Indeed, the web over the past few days has been inundated with dramatic political op-eds arguing that Facebook is broken and is in need of a dramatic and immediate overhaul.

Facebook of course should do everything in its power to accurately and efficiently ferret out fake news stories. Not only that, but Facebook’s decision this past August to remove human curation from its Trending Topics scroll was beyond moronic. Nonetheless, the idea that Facebook users with an inclination to click on and share fake news stories helped shape the election is intellectually lazy and curiously turns a blind eye to the myriad of social, economic and political factors that, taken together, led to Trump’s surprising victory.

Facebook doesn’t sway opinion so much as it reinforces already strongly held beliefs. The harsh reality is that anyone inclined to click on a politically charged story with an inflammatory headline and digest it as gospel truth has already made up his or her mind. American’s didn’t come out in support of Trump because they happened to stumble across and share ridiculously slanted articles in favor of Trump and against Hillary. On the contrary, Americans were all too happy to click on and share ridiculously slanted articles because they already supported Trump.

It’s a classic case of reversing cause and effect.

If social media outlets were truly capable of impacting the entrenched political beliefs of American voters, it stands to reason that Trump would have talked himself out of the Presidential race many months ago. In fact, many of the biggest media outlets in the U.S. over the past few weeks diligently covered multiple allegations that Trump was a serial sexual harasser. What’s more, many media outlets routinely brought up mounds of evidence highlighting that Trump truly has no real grasp or even basic understanding of serious economic or political issues. Further, there have been an avalanche of stories focusing on how Trump is an unabashed liar, a hateful xenophobe, and an unscrupulous and failure-prone businessman who stiffs his workers.

If Facebook is as persuasive as many journalists and political pundits would have you believe, how come Trump’s own words and his own track record as a businessman and an overall human being seemed to do nothing to stop his inexplicable momentum?

Are we really to believe that a small number of Internet hoaxes, albeit shared widely, impacted the minds of voters while legitimate news stories that painted Trump in an extremely unfavorable light seemingly had no impact?

Isn’t it more likely that individuals already primed to vote for and support Trump were simply quick to gravitate towards anti-Hillary and pro-Trump stories no matter how ludicrous they appeared to be?

Blaming Facebook for Trump’s ascendancy to the Presidency paints a woefully incomplete picture of the election. After all, it’s easy to blame Facebook instead of coming to grips with the fact that fewer Americans voted during this election than in both 2012 and 2008. It’s easy to blame Facebook and  give only passing reference to the fact that nearly 50% of eligible Americans did not go to the polls this year. It’s easier to blame Facebook than it is to try to make sense of how Trump managed to win 53% of the female vote. This simplistic Facebook narrative also does nothing to account for Trump defying all expectations and winning the Republican nomination in the first place, a scenario that almost everyone on both the left and right said was impossible.

Indeed, trying to make sense of Trump’s victory is undoubtedly a complex and frustrating endeavor. It is, after all, hard to explain the unexplainable. But blaming Facebook? Well, that’s pretty darn easy and convenient.

A few months ago, Michael Moore penned a prescient article detailing 5 reasons why Donald Trump was going to win the election. Moore’s piece is a must-read for anyone still trying to make sense of this year’s election results. Moore, to his credit, actually took some time to think about and reflect on the confluence of factors that might lead to a Trump Presidency. Each of Moore’s points are well-reasoned and insightful. And yet, shockingly!, there’s nary a mention of how the election was going to go Donald Trump’s way because of fake news stories regarding the Pope endorsing Trump or Clinton sacrificing goats in her backyard in front of a poster of Joseph Stalin.

We just bore witness to the most contentious Presidential campaign in history. It was dirty. It was personal. And through it all, the hate many voters had for each opposing candidate only seemed to grow with each passing week. During this particular election, I find it hard to believe that Facebook did much of anything to influence public opinion to a significant degree.

America held up a mirror on November 8 and a lot of people didn’t like the reflection staring back at them. That’s understandable, but blaming the mirror does nothing to address how a man with no real qualifications to speak of became President of the United States.

Yoni Heisler Contributing Writer

Yoni Heisler has been writing about Apple and the tech industry at large with over 15 years of experience. A life long expert Mac user and Apple expert, his writing has appeared in Edible Apple, Network World, MacLife, Macworld UK, and TUAW.

When not analyzing the latest happenings with Apple, Yoni enjoys catching Improv shows in Chicago, playing soccer, and cultivating new TV show addictions.