Silicon Valley hates Donald Trump all the way to the bank
WASHINGTON POST: How do you get your message out and communicate to people?
TRUMP: What I did today.
WASHINGTON POST: Just social media? Rallies?
TRUMP: Social media, where I’m head and shoulders above everybody else. [I’m read by] 22 million people on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. More than 22 million people. Nobody else is even close.
Wasn’t it just devastating last month when all those Very Important Tech People signed an open letter opposing Trump?
Wasn’t that just the final nail in the guy’s coffin, when he lost the support of "David Grain, Founder/Managing Partner, Grain Management, LLC," "Phil Weiser, Hatfield Professor of Law, University of Colorado," not to mention Uber investor and Putin BFF Shervin Pishevar? No wonder Trump has barely shown his face in public since.
The tech industry - with the billions of dollars it contributes to the American economy - would love to think American voters give a damn what it thinks about politics. It would be absolutely thrilled to believe a stern word from "Miles Lasater, Serial Entrepreneur" or a painfully ironic Medium post from MG Siegler or really-very-ticked-off Facebook status from the founder of whateverthefuck.com could be enough to convince the undecided portion of the electorate not to elect a demogue.
The inconvenient truth is that the election will not be altered one jot by what Silicon Valley bigwigs say.
It might, however, be decided by what Silicon Valley bigwigs do.
And what Silicon Valley's biggest wigs do every single day is support and promote Donald Trump. Specifically they support Donald Trump by simpering with gratitude that he has chosen to use their platforms - in particular Twitter and Facebook - to peddle his message of hate, violence and bigotry. They promote him and verify him and wallow in the new users he brings them, users which in Twitter’s case have certainly artificially propped up the company’s plummeting user engagement. And they do all this while, from the other side of their mouths, insisting they're cracking down on trolling and hate.
What's that, Jack?
"No one deserves to be the target of abuse on Twitter... We haven't been good enough at ensuring that's the case, and we need to do better."
Yeah, ok, buddy.
"The election year has always been good to us... this is a massive year for us."
I’d challenge either Jack Dorsey or Mark Zuckerberg to tell me with a straight face that any other user who posts the kind of sexist, racist, anti-semitic bullshit that passes for Trump’s campaign platform wouldn't have been banned long, long ago. Of course they would. In fact, many users have been banned for lesser offenses than reposting anti-semitic, racist, sexist garbage and sending hordes of trolls after female news anchors, or muslims, or the parents of combat victims or, or, or...
Sure, Dorsey and Zuckerberg (both of whose signatures are conspicuously absent from that open letter, incidentally) would likely dress up their Trump exceptionalism in language about non-partisanship and free speech. The rules have to be different for presidential nominees, don’t they? Just like they had to be different from presidential primary candidates, just like they had to be different for the guy who hosted the Apprentice.
What they really mean is, they have to be different for a guy with ten million followers and a knack for headline-making Tweets.
This was supposed to be the first election that might be decided by social media. In fact, it's the first election that might be decided, for good or ill, by social media trolls.
We can blame the media all we like for the rise of Trump. From Fox and MSNBC obsessively hyping every single Trump presser since before the primaries right up to CNN hiring Corey Lewandowski, the mainstream press has a lot to answer for. If they hadn’t given Trump so much airtime, if print journalists hadn’t given him so much ink, he might never have won the primaries.
That's certainly true.
But it’s equally true that Trump would never have got so much airtime if he wasn’t such a master at social media trolling, particularly Twitter trolling. His most unhinged comments, his most deranged lies have appeared first not on television, or even on his website but via @realdonaldtrump. See also, his retweeting and resharing of vile, bigoted and just plain loony tunes memes.
And, if we look deep into our hearts, we know that CNN and MSNBC and the rest are only giving us what we want: We’d be equally furious if the media ignored his trolling. Why didn’t CNN report on Trump’s latest anti-semitic retweet! Why won’t they cover what he tweeted about a Gold Star family?!
Of course it’s not just Trump. You’re crazy if you think Bernie Bros aren’t a social media phenomenon, or if even Hillary’s “delete your account” doesn’t represent a shift in tone. And, yes, Bernie and Hillary supporters, not to mention #nevertrump Republicans, are increasingly joining Trump in the mud: Mention Hillary and Bernie in a tweet and watch what happens. But Trump remains the undisputed King of the Twitter Trolls. His campaign has lived because of Twitter and, if his recent unhinged ramblings are any indication, he will likely die by it too.
And so it goes.
But, while that all plays out, it’s worth considering what kind of mess will be left behind when this campaign is done.
Facebook will very likely weather the storm. With close to two billion users, even Trump is only a relatively small turd in a gigantic punchbowl. For poor old Twitter, however, the damage might be irreversible.
Trump may not have the most followers on Twitter (in fact, he's not even in the top 100, and significantly trails both Ricky Martin and Paris Hilton) but he's almost certainly the best at stirring up global headlines with his tweets and, as a result, driving others to sign up. More importantly, it seems like almost all of those sign ups, for or against Trump, arrives spoiling for a fight.
How do you think Twitter’s user growth would look if one were to remove all the Trolls For Trump who have signed up just to follow, and emulate, the hate spewed by their leader? (Not to mention the Trolls For Putin posing as Trump supporters just to meta troll the Americans, and the Hillary and Bernie supporters attacking Trump and each other.) What will happen to all those users when the election is over? Does Twitter seriously think they’ll stick around for the long haul?
Meantime, how many not-entirely-crazy users have been driven away, perhaps for good, by all the bile and rage and attendant unpleasantness? This is anecdotal, of course, but I know of at least a half dozen friends who have stopped using Twitter entirely thanks to the shift in tone, post Trump. There are people who know what Twitter is, and have been using it a long time. Imagine how disheartened the newbies must feel.
Even if, by some miracle, Twitter's user numbers do hold up after the election, the tenor of Twitter has been permanently altered. Just like the GOP has become the party of Trump, whether he wins or not, so Twitter has become the social network of Trump.
Tech CEOs can keep writing their angry letters and feeling smugly satisfied by all the retweets from friends and colleagues. But when the dust settles they might be shocked to realise that Donald Trump’s campaign has done more damage Silicon Valley than vice versa.