Donald Trump has opened up a new war on reality by going after another medium used to disseminate facts and news about his presidency: social media. In evidence free assertions, the president has attacked Google, Facebook and Twitter for being 'biased' and 'fake'. Trump has warned them that they "better be careful" about political bias, setting off a firestorm in right wing circles.
This follows Trump's pattern of calling anything that portrays him negatively as being "fake". From "fake books" to "fake news", "fake google searches" and "fake social", there is no medium left that is not biased against Donald Trump.
Conservatives Believe Trump
While the majority of Americans understand that Trump is lashing out and lying to protect himself, enough believe the president is genuinely onto something (via Axios):
A new poll by Media Research Center/McLaughlin & Associates, reported first by Axios, showed the attacks are working: 65% of self-described conservatives believe that social media companies purposely censor the right.
To be perfectly clear, Trump has provided no sources for his assertion. Google has strenuously denied the accusations. "When users type queries into the Google Search bar, our goal is to make sure they receive the most relevant answers in a matter of seconds," a spokesperson for Google said in a statement. "Search is not used to set a political agenda and we don't bias our results toward any political ideology."
"We continually work to improve Google Search and we never rank search results to manipulate political sentiment," they added.
How Google would determine political sentiment in its search algorithm is something Trump has also failed to explain.
The War on Reality is Working
Why is Trump doing this? It is because he instinctively understands that if he keeps throwing enough proverbial shit against the wall, enough of it will stick and at least create the impression that he is being unfairly attacked. This tactic has worked over and over and over again, beginning with his run for the presidency in 2016. Trump hurled so many false accusations against his opponents and spread so many lies that much of the country began to lose all sense of what was real. The media failed spectacularly to put Trump's history of scandals and incessant lying into perspective, and worked diligently to create a "both sides" narrative.
A study by Thomas E. Patterson (the fourth of his series of studies on media coverage of the 2016 presidential campaign) for the Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, found that "Clinton’s controversies got more attention than Trump’s (19 percent versus 15 percent) and were more focused."
"Trump wallowed in a cascade of separate controversies," continued Patterson. "Clinton’s badgering had a laser-like focus. She was alleged to be scandal-prone. Clinton’s alleged scandals accounted for 16 percent of her coverage—four times the amount of press attention paid to Trump’s treatment of women and sixteen times the amount of news coverage given to Clinton’s most heavily covered policy position."
This chart from the study is highly revealing:
Confessing to grabbing women by the genitals was given the same weight at Hillary Clinton's email scandal -- which of course turned out not to be a scandal at all.
While Trump has extremely limited mental bandwidth, he does intuitively grasp how the media works and how it can be manipulated to his advantage. By constantly changing the subject and making outrageous claims, he distracts and deflects from the multitude of scandals he is embroiled in. He just needs to keep himself in the headlines and let his minions in the right wing press figure out how to justify his side of the argument. This time, he is taking on social media and making the ludicrous claim that it to is "fake".
Trump's Legitimate Claim
It is important to view Trump's latest war on social media as a new front in a much larger fight with consensus reality. Social media is now the predominant way in which Americans interact with the world, and once you start to undermine its basis as a neutral medium for sharing information, you can create any narrative you like and have people believe in it.
The biggest problem here is that Trump is at least partially right about the social media giants and how their algorithms decide what you do and don't see in your feed or search results. Facebook for example, is highly manipulative and secretive when it comes to controlling what you see on your page -- the company changes its algorithm intermittently without warning and often without much transparency. The Banter, for example, has suffered greatly from its recent purge of news from the newsfeed. The social media giants aren't punishing conservatives, they are punishing the media in general by sucking up ad dollars and continuously manipulating algorithms for their own financial gain. Trump however, is using this for political advantage to claim that what you are seeing on your newsfeed and in search results isn't real. Like all good lies, if you hide it in a partial truth, it seems more believable.
The reason why this new front in Trump's war on reality is so frightening is that a) it is working, and b) there is now no medium not biased towards Trump. This gives Trump's supporters more fuel to further their narrative that there is a grand conspiracy to suppress the president and removes them almost entirely from rational debate. If books, news, media and social media is all "fake" in American, then by default, the only thing that can be real is whatever comes out of Donald Trump's mouth. And if that doesn't terrify you, nothing will.