Following Russian interference on Facebook during the 2016 election, how can we use new Digital Transparency tools to get a look inside the mind of one of the most maddening and mercurial minds in modern Politics?
Transparency may be the most disruptive and far-reaching innovation to come out of social media”
Paul Gillin, The New Influencers
As we collectively as a nation hurtle towards the 2020 Presidential Primary, social media has emerged as the preeminent weapon of choice for Candidates vying for occupancy of the Oval Office in 2020 and beyond. From the office’s current occupant and his oft-derided use of social media as a coded dog-whistle for white supremacists to the upstart Democrats using social media to rally and engage their eager, young and Liberal support base — everyone who has eyes on 2020 knows that social media is the true ticket to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
Former President Barack Obama’s deft usage of social media resulted in a historic victory in both 2008 and 2012 but social media also ultimately threatened to haunt his presidency when social media-fueled “scandals” reared their heads such as “birthergate” — instigated by Donald Trump himself setting a template for the forthcoming Trump campaign in 2016.
Following the relative non-scandal of birthergate outside of Trump’s ardent supporters — Trump’s ultimately successful bid would itself be shrouded in scandal with the ensuing interference from Russia utilizing Facebook to spread misinformation and sow division amongst voters ultimately reaching 126 million users on Facebook and an additional 131,000 posts on Twitter.
As we begin to enter the heat of 2020’s race, the tech giants have learned several important lessons from 2016 — namely, Facebook which earlier this year launched its Transparency tool to allow users to peek behind the curtain of political ads targeted on Facebook in addition to requiring candidates posts to feature disclosures about who in particular bought each ad in the increasingly-crowded newsfeed.
One additional transparency tool that has been somewhat overlooked is the Facebook Ad Library — an open tool that allows any user to see all active and inactive ads run by a candidate which oftentimes offers a candid look at the mindset of the candidate in question — for the purposes of this article focusing on President Trump in particular.
Much has been written about Trump’s often divisive political strategy of sowing division and racist attacks as well as his well-known use of distraction as a deflection tactic. But in the recent weeks behind the headlines, another more curious strategy is beginning to appear from one of the most mercurial and maddening figures in modern politics.
Trump’s most recent social attacks have been focused on “The Squad,” the city of Baltimore and China’s looming trade war as well as his regularly scheduled attacks on Immigrants and People of color that is nothing new from a man who once described developing nations as “shithole” countries and whose racist rhetoric has been blamed for inspiring and inciting several recent acts of violence. But there is one active campaign being run by Trump in an effort to sow division that is being totally missed by the mainstream media. Let’s break it down, shall we?
The next great flashpoint in the election may be straws…straws? Yes, straws…as most of the nation becomes accustomed to paper straws vs plastic straws being the norm inspiring outcry from consumers as well as the creation of untold memes decrying their somewhat flimsy nature — especially in iced beverages.
While Trump has never been particularly environmentally friendly, his new stance on straws might just well take the cake.
Trump’s Facebook account has in recent weeks begun running ads declaring straws as the next “thing” that must be made great again pointing the finger once again at liberals for depriving the good people of the US of A of good old fashioned environment-destroying straws.
Users are encouraged to buy a $15 pack of Trump-branded plastic straws decked out in his signature red MAGA color.
The straw ads were targeted to users in California, Texas, and Florida and primarily to users aged 45+.
If attempting to divide the country over straws wasn’t enough, another more curious narrative is beginning to emerge as seen through the lens of the Facebook Ad Library…it’s been no secret that Trump has run over 2200 Facebook ads since May 2018 referring to immigrants as an “infestation” and an “invasion” — two of his favorite words to describe people of color. However, in the wake of the El Paso and Dayton, OH mass shootings, Trump’s announced visit to the victims of El Paso was met with a resounding “No thanks” after his stop in Dayton regressed into a stump for his 2020 bid. El Paso’s appearance was also marked by protests fueled by the very people he has spent much of his campaign vilifying.
However, it appears that Trump pivoted his social ads strategy in the days following the El Paso shooting leading into his visit. The Ad library shows that Trump began running a series of ads targeted to Texas gaslighting Latinos into thinking that the president has a loyal following of Latino supporters asking local voters to sign a pledge to join the Latino Coalition of Trump Supporters, which itself would be hard to determine if such a coalition exists given the protests on display in El Paso.
Another more troubling narrative also emerges recently in that on August 5, the same day that Trump told reporters at the White House: “In one voice, our nation must condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy, These sinister ideologies must be defeated. Hate has no place in America.”
However, it’s quite a curious discovery that on the very day this hollow pledge was given, Trump was still running ads decrying the “CRISIS at the border” and calling upon true patriots to secure the border.
And if his confusing stance with Latinos isn’t enough, Trump has also taken to gaslighting women into believing that this is a candidate that cares about Women’s Issues. Let us not forget this is the same man who once infamously said that women could be “grabbed by the P***y” and has also waged a war against abortion and Planned Parenthood. However, his campaign has taken to running ads calling for “strong women” to pledge their support to a President who has pledged to take away their basic rights as women.
So, which is it, Mr. President? Does hate have no place in America? Or does it just have a place online, where he thinks no one can see it?
While Trump may remain one of the most divisive presidents in American history and the road ahead to 2020 is sure to be fraught with more terrors, we as a society have thankfully been given some digital tools to better read the tea leaves of a certain madman.
Edgar Allan Poe may have said it best: “You are young yet, my friend, but the time will arrive when you will learn to judge for yourself of what is going on in the world, without trusting to the gossip of others. Believe nothing you hear and only one half that you see.”
Worth noting about Poe’s oft-referenced quote: the quote first appeared in Poe’s short story “The System of Dr. Tarr and Prof. Fether” in the November 1845 issue of “Graham’s Magazine”. The short story was set in a private hospital for the mentally ill, and the adage was spoken by the head of the institution.
I could think of no better allegory to today’s chaotic political landscape in which we all now have the ability to look in on said institution whenever we so please.