I’ve followed politics for many years, but I’ve never seen anything like the 2016 presidential primary. Even as much as I love following politics, this election has, at times, pushed that “love” to its limits. To call some of what we’ve seen from both sides a “circus” doesn’t really do it justice, but the battle between Hilary Clinton and Bernie Sanders hasn’t been anywhere close to the outlandish sideshow we’ve seen from Republicans.
So, what gives? Why has this year been such a hot mess?
Well, depending on who you ask, you’ll get any number of answers. The generally accepted belief is that Americans are “fed up,” “angry” and “tired of business as usual.” Many have said that the push for an “outsider” is the reason why candidates like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have been so successful.
I think those points are valid. People are angry as well as being sick and tired of the same old thing we seem to get year after year. Plus the allure of an outsider as president has persisted in politics for decades.
However, I believe it goes a lot deeper than that.
If you ask me, what’s made 2016 such a strange election is the fact that this is the first presidential election where social media has been established as the “go-to” source for many to get their news and political information.
Now I know what some are going to say, “But social media was around in 2008 and 2012, you’re an idiot!”
To be fair, that’s true. However, in 2008, social media wasn’t nearly as developed as it is today. Hell, the iPhone had barely been around for about year. Today – nearly everyone has a smartphone.
Then in 2012, while social media had definitely become much more ingrained in our lives, we had an incumbent president and a Republican party that really didn’t seem to think it could beat him. Let’s face it, the 2012 GOP primary was a sad showing where nearly every candidate was a “favorite” at one point until Republicans realized they were all batcrap crazy and settled on the “most electable” one, Mitt Romney.
But in 2016, social media dominates when it comes to how many people get their news and information. This has given the “independent media” (blogs, Twitter and Facebook pages, in particular) huge influence in politics. This is also the first presidential election where social media has had a significant influence during a time where both sides feel that they have a chance to “get the win” because there’s no incumbent running for re-election.
Look, I’m not here to be one of those writers who whines incessantly about clickbait or to act as if everything I’ve written has been based on some sort of moral compass where I never decided to write an article because I knew it would get clicks. Everyone in this “business” does that and anyone telling you they haven’t is full of crap. Of course, there are some blogs and Facebook pages that are far worse about doing it than others.
The problem I see is that behind a lot of these blogs and Facebook pages are people who aren’t at all qualified to actually deliver the information they’re producing – especially as it relates to often very complex political issues.
Oh, and don’t even get me started on people breaking down polling information who have no idea how to accurately or ethically report on sometimes very complex polling data.
See, that’s one of the issues with the “independent media”: There’s really no accountability.
A site can have a clear agenda, push blatant propaganda or even flat-out lie and the only form of “checks and balances” that exist are the amount of traffic their website gets. You’re not going to see in-depth investigations by The New York Times, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC or any other mainstream source on random blogs or large Facebook pages pushing false or blatantly inaccurate information.
*Sidenote: While I know memes are quick and easy ways to share things you really like seeing – please fact check them before clicking “share.”
Again, not that all of these “independent media” blogs or pages do this. Many are fantastic sources of information that provide a well-rounded, researched and articulate take on what’s going on in this country.
However, there are some that don’t – especially on the right. Though there are some liberal sites out there that do nothing but push inaccurate and blatant far-left propaganda and conspiracies, as well. These are the sites and Facebook pages (some of them very large) that frequently prey on fear and anger by pushing stories that work people up, often based on information that’s either been cherry picked to fit their narrative without any sort of context included, or they just flat-out distort the truth.
Why? Well, because outrage is what sells best.
Trust me when I tell you, “good news” stories are often terrible for getting traffic – which means they hardly make any money. The stories that do “get the clicks” are the ones that trigger outrage, shock, disgust, anger, or all of the above.
Then when you factor all of this in with the “confirmation bias bubble” in which so many people wrap themselves, it’s a very dangerous combination. It’s people who are isolating themselves inside of an echo chamber surrounding themselves with sources that tell them what they want to hear whether or not a lot of the information they’re being given is actually true. Then for any source that doesn’t, those are quickly discarded, “unliked” or blocked.
And if people are only wrapping themselves up in sources that are often factually unreliable or are flat-out propaganda – while rejecting factual sources simply because they’re not telling these folks what they want to hear – that’s a huge problem.
That’s exactly what we’re seeing, which has helped make the 2016 election such a mess.
That’s how someone like Donald Trump has become such a rock star among so many Republicans. During his campaign he’s become the living embodiment of these right-wing blogs and Facebook pages. He’s literally saying the very same vile, bigoted propaganda and lies that these sites have been pushing for years. He’s simply feeding people who don’t want to be told the truth everything that they desperately want to hear.
Even on the Democratic side, I’ve spent more time this year combating misinformation that’s being pushed by agenda-driven left-wing blogs than I have talking factually about the issues facing this country.
It’s all been absurd.
But I do feel that a lot of the rather ridiculous antics we’ve seen during this 2016 primary election are linked to the fact that, while the rise of social media has brought with it amazing benefits, like the Internet itself, it’s also made people who have no business being treated legitimately as news sources – seem legitimate.
And we’re finally seeing this culminate in the first post-social media election where we didn’t have an incumbent, where both parties have gone “all-in” with doing whatever they can to win the White House.
So, from here on out, a lot of the strange and often mind-boggling events we’ve seen in 2016 might be the “new normal” in politics.
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