If you’re anything like me, you probably have Facebook friends across the political spectrum, and over the past few months you’ve seen a range of posts from young idealists feeling the Bern to staunch conservatives who Trust Ted.
But there is one glaring exception: the bewildering avalanche of articles denouncing Donald Trump and the mystifying absence of a single pro-Trump post.
So what accounts for this? Why do many of us see people posting pro and con on all the other candidates, but only negative things about Trump?
Where Are All the Trump Supporters?
When you think about it there are only a few options
- Trump supporters don’t actually exist
- Trump supporters aren’t using Facebook or the Internet
- I’m not Facebook friends with any Trump supporters
- Facebook isn’t showing me any pro-Trump news
Yes, Let’s take these one at a time.
A few months ago, the first option might have seemed plausible. Surely this is all just a fun stunt for Trump, and he might have some supporters, but he won’t actually get votes, right? However, primary after primary has proven this to be yuuuugely wrong. Donald Trump has tens of millions of living, breathing, voting supporters. The are real, and they are making their voices and votes count.
So what if Trump supporters just don’t post on Facebook? That doesn’t seem likely because this map of candidate Likes (HT: Tim Hutchings) shows that there are indeed many, many Facebook users who support Trump. And they aren’t avoiding anti-Trump articles either. Whenever I click on a “Why Trump is Bad for America” post, I see dozens of pro-Trump comments below the article. As his support grows, it’s also apparent that some people are embarrassed to be supporting him and so they keep quiet about it, but that doesn’t yet appear to be a majority of his supporters.
Is it possible, then, that I (and presumably ‘we’) don’t have any Trump-supporting friends on Facebook and that’s why we don’t see any posts in his favor? In person, I’ve only heard one couple friend (or really acquaintance) of mine offer strong support of Trump, so it seems very likely that few of the Facebook friends I’ve accumulated over the years support him.
This all means its possible that there are Trump supporters among my 500+ friends, and that leads to the another possible explanation for why I don’t see their posts — Facebook just isn’t showing them to me. Is this a Zuckerbergian conspiracy, or is something else going on?
Your Facebook is a Mirror
No it’s not a conspiracy. If Facebook isn’t showing my any pro-Trump posts from friends, it’s because it knows I probably don’t want to hear that message from those people.
My patterns over the last ten years – whose baby pictures I’ve liked, whose articles I clicked on, who I “respectfully disagreed with,” what ads I’ve clicked, even the posts I scrolled to and paused on for a few moments without clicking anything – all of that has been recorded, analyzed, and processed in order to create something Facebook knows I’ll like.
That Facebook’s job. Figure out what I like, and keep it coming, so I’ll return again and again. This might be a time to trot out fun statements like, “If a service is free, you’re the product,” but in this case, I think something deeper is a work.
Who Are “Those People”?
In his article, A Message from Trump’s America, Michael Cooper reminds us the majority of Trump supporters come from a large, neglected group of Americans – working class white people. They don’t make a lot of money, they are struggling to put food on the table, and they are frustrated that no one seems to be listening and no one seems to care. He writes:
His supporters realize he’s a joke. They do not care. They know he’s authoritarian, nationalist, almost un-American, and they love him anyway, because he disrupts a broken political process and beats establishment candidates who’ve long ignored their interests.
When you’re earning $32,000 a year and haven’t had a decent vacation in over a decade, it doesn’t matter who Trump appoints to the U.N., or if he poisons America’s standing in the world, you just want to win again, whoever the victim, whatever the price.
What’s worse is that there is a popular narrative that says only working class people are racist bigots and can be dismissed easily. However, in reality there appears to be plenty of racists among the highly educated as well. So it’s easy to say those working class supporters are wrong, but the shocking and sobering reality of Trump’s rise is that it exposes how utterly cut off most of us are from an entire class of people in need. People in need of compassion and grace, not condescension and more anger.
When I read Cooper’s description above, it doesn’t sound like the kind of person I seek out regularly. And it certainly doesn’t sound like the kind of person who could entertain me on Facebook, post an amazing photo on Instagram, or have a super interesting Periscope channel.
We tend to see only what we want to see, and social media is very good and showing us what we want to see.
The media we consume is so good at regurgitating the story we want hear, that an entire nation has been caught off guard by the presence of a class of people so desperate for change that they would support anyone – literally anyone – who will listen.
Post script: As Trump amasses more votes, he also seems to be getting more vocal supporters who don’t fit the original demographic – Chris Christie, Ben Carson, a pastor in my area who seem to enjoy media attention, lots of embarrassed people, educated people, etc. It’s likely that this “Trump as pragmatic choice” will continue right up to the nomination and possibly election.
But don’t let that distract you from the strange truth that from July 2015 to March 2016, many, many people thought Trump didn’t have a chance, and they thought this because they (including me) weren’t aware of the feelings of a massive group of people, some of them hurting quite badly. And our media echoed that back to us so strongly that for a time we believed they didn’t exist.