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The Donald, Facebook, and Producing the News

An editorial to her friends from our Managing Partner, Christine Merser, published on her blog.

Santana or the Donald? We the people decide which we will have, not by our vote, but through our Facebook posts.

I have an old friend I haven’t seen in twenty years whom I follow on Facebook. Upper West Side of Manhattan guy who is passionate about right and wrong and politics, and those who have “friended” him on Facebook generally agree with his point of view—or if they do not, they do not challenge it when he writes his long, heartfelt, editorials on his wall. These missives generally get a lot of rah-rahs and likes, but overall serve no purpose other than to make him feel better, and those around him get to enjoy that feeling you get when you read something that outrages you and someone else makes comments that make you feel like “he gets it.” It makes the individual feel better, but generally that’s the net gain.

Now, let’s go back in time a bit to the Flintstone age when it was just TV, radio, and print. If you sent in an editorial, or commented on the screen when a microphone was put in front of you, all that happened was people heard you and agreed or didn’t. But that was it.

Those days are over friends. The Facebook editorial beast has changed things, and your role in the conversation about The Donald is not what you think it is. If I told Robby, the friend I mentioned earlier, that he was helping The Donald by posting about him, he’d stick his head in the oven. But that’s what he’s doing.

Here is what happens when Robby types his eight-paragraph editorial on The Donald, which referenced TD (The Donald) by name seven or eight times. It was liked by 24 people and commented on by another 15 or so. The algorithms of Facebook come in and say, “Wow. These fine people want to see more on TD. They are interested in what he has to say.” And, then FB puts articles about TD on the walls of Robby’s friends, and they click on the link to Salon’s latest piece about how TD is whipping the uneducated into a frenzy, and then Robby’s friends like that article and comment on it and share it, and then Salon says, “We must keep writing about TD because he is giving us reach,” and voilá, TD moves forward yet another few inches.

Here is what didn’t happen with Robby’s eight paragraph editorial. Not one mind was changed. Those who are his friends feel the same way he does, and those who do not know him never see it … and even if they did, data shows us that their minds are already made up, and their opinions are reinforced by the reflections of their own viewpoints that Facebook’s fine algorithms have put on their walls.

My friends don’t seem to realize that every time they click on those TD articles, they are helping him by extending his reach. His ability to get the media to cover him four times as much as they cover any other GOP candidate is based on the input the media gets on the popularity of what they are covering, and since social media has changed the game of news to make it a popularity contest for ratings, rather than a discourse on what is happening in the world, we are all doomed unless we change our message to the media.

“I can fix this,” the megalomaniac part of me says to my other self. “Just explain to my friends what is happening here.” So I go onto his latest post, and I write,

The thing about all this is that he is controlling the conversation. When we react to his statements, it just keeps the focus on the issues he is selling rather than the issues that matter to us. I’m in marketing. You want to answer him? Take the power away from him rather than continue the dialog. If people stop writing about him, commenting on his commentary, he is gone. And, then listen and dance to this music from a Mexican immigrant. (At this point in my reply to Robby’s post, I added a link to Santana—one of the greatest imports into the US from Mexico as far as I’m concerned—and his fabulous “Smooth”).

Well, the response to my post was less than smooth. I didn’t get it, according to him. We must speak up – answer him. So much for my ability to change the conversation. And it’s true, we can’t ignore him, but since the news is now dictated by ‘we the people’ rather than the news itself, we are obligated to take responsibility when it becomes a free for all of embarrassing, less than relevant, hate-based, dribble.

Here it is in a nutshell people. If you are afraid of TD, this is what you need to do to stop him:

1. Never click on a link that mentions him again. Anywhere.

2. Start talking about the candidate you are interested in. Click on links about them—often. Share those links.

3. Send a contribution to your candidate.

4. Go hear the speeches of less entertaining but more presidential candidates.

5. Tell your friends to read this article. Forward it to a friend. (Oh, all right, that was a bit self-serving, perhaps.)

The conversation is deteriorating because of we the people. We now dictate what the media presents. Raise your level of interest, and they will too. By the way, talk about a fun alternative to watching TD talk about immigration. Watch this immigration rant from Harry Belefonte.

So, be gone TD. I am done with you. I will never click on another link with you in the headline again. You too, Kardashian. FB is going to think I have the most intelligent interests in all the land.

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