Like President Trump, I am going to blame former President Barack Obama (without good reason) for the creation of this blog. On one hand, you have a president who guest edited Wired and on the other, a president who relished using Twitter to spread his story and condemn his critics. Both believed and harnessed the power of technology, but as President Trump is currently in power I want to look towards his relationship with technology and the future impact it may have.
Trump’s relationship with Twitter is well documented. It feels like every day the media is responding to some tweet of the president whether it be his attack on Nordstrom or his wiretapping claim. Trump’s use of Twitter allows him to spread his view of the world and he himself admits the power it gives him to address an audience:
“Without the tweets, I wouldn’t be here”
It’s clear that Trump views Twitter as being extremely beneficial to his cause, but how does Twitter view Trump? Twitter itself has created controversy in the past through Gamergate and its slow response to take action against Milo Yiannopoulos for his role in the abuse against Leslie Jones. It must be strange for Twitter to acknowledge that in their own way, they created the platform and partly influenced the movement of Trump supporters.
What will 2017 bring for Twitter? Despite the president’s influence, Twitter is still struggling and this may be the year that it makes or breaks. In 2016, Joshua Topolsky penned an article for the New Yorker decreeing “The End of Twitter”. It skilfully documented the greatest problems Twitter has faced but still it limps on. I cannot help but wonder whether Trump and Twitter are stuck in some abusive, symbiotic relationship where neither can exist without the other. Even Jack Dorsey admits the relationship is “complicated”.
What’s the impact?
Trump’s relationship with Twitter has created a variety of impact on our lives whether we choose to acknowledge it or not. Here are my opinions on how Trump and Twitter have transformed the landscape:
Rise of the Bots
It’s impossible to tell the role that bots played in the election. In case you don’t know, a bot is a fake twitter account that spreads likes and retweets. The logic is simple enough, if you saw a tweet had been liked by a lot of people, you would presume it was true even though it was fake. For example, everyone who told me Avatar is a good movie (Spoiler : it isn’t).
According to researchers at Corvinus University, Oxford, and the University of Washington, 1/4 of all tweets about the election came from bots and interestingly pro Trump twitter bots got 5 times more traffic than pro Clinton ones.
Research conducted by Ben Schreckinger of Politico indicated that these Twitter bots would purposely try to suppress controversy around Trump and instead bash Clinton instead. Oh and apologies about mentioning Clinton so long after the election but you know Trump does it all the time.
It’s pretty difficult to mention Twitter bots without discussing the concept of fake news. These bots widely disseminate fake news and have led to the creation of our post truth society. As James Carson wrote in The Telegraph last month, fake news or let’s just be frank, lies are nothing new in the political world. What is worrying is an individual who lashes out and critiques any negative information about themselves as fake news.
Probably the greatest example of fake news was the Pizzagate story. Even Alex Jones, a well know conspiracy theorist, apologized for his spreading of the story. You can check out the clip here.
The difficulty with fake news is it’s pretty hard to restrict and more importantly, people want to believe it. That’s on both sides of the spectrum, anybody remember the Trump Dossier?
Indiana University recently created a beta program called Hoaxy to track fake news but even it can’t tell the difference yet and only documents the spread. Now we just wait to see if Facebook, Twitter and every other social media site can reduce the spread of fake news but I’m too much of a cynic to believe we will see the last of fake news.
End of Part One
Thank you to everyone for reading this blog. Next week, I will publish an article on Trump and Automation. If you have any comments or advice, please comment below