The USA is one of the largest tech nations in the world. But what do the Americans themselves actually think about all this? Which trends inspire them, which ones completely miss them? This is exactly what Marinela Potor reports on – directly from the USA in the BASIC thinking US update. This time she looks at how Trump’s opponents use social networks in the US election campaign to create a mood against the president.
Actually, social media is made for the US president Donald Trump. After all, he has repeatedly proven how skilfully he uses social media to send messages, set the mood or inspire voters.
But of course, Democrats are also using social networks in the current US election campaign, as are Trump’s opponents in general. In the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, between lockdown and quarantine, some interesting countermovements have emerged.
The explosive combination of social media and Corona
The best known of these, of course, are the current Black Lives Matter protests, which have taken off so much after the death of George Floyd and have carried away so many people, as seldom an anti-racism movement in the country before.
Black Lives Matter is not a US election campaign. But the protests are certainly a platform for many citizens to express their displeasure with Trump and his government.
Now George Floyd is sadly not the first African American to fall victim to inappropriate police violence and unfortunately he is not the most brutal example of this.
But Corona and the associated social media consumption have played a crucial role in why the movement is mobilizing so many people over the Internet right now.
In the USA, dealing with the pandemic was and is in many ways careless, chaotic and inappropriate. As a result, many US citizens sat in a lockdown at home and watched via social media not only how the world tried to get a grip on an unknown pandemic.
They also saw how their country was failing.
The news was mostly negative. Many people died. Health workers were overwhelmed and there was a lack of help and support everywhere – especially from the US government. So they were surrounded by death, saw how their own system was failing and felt powerless.
As a natural response to this, coupled with increased social media consumption, many people wanted to vent their anger and the digitally organized Black Lives Matter protests were the ideal outlet for this.
Tik Tok: How teenagers trick the algorithms – and Donald Trump
In this context, the social media platform Tik Tok has received a lot of attention. Here the Black Lives Matter movement found a very direct access to the US election campaign – in the form of some very smart digital tricks.
Young people and K-Pop fans came together here for a somewhat unusual anti-trump protest.
Tik-Tok users bought lots of tickets for a US presidential election campaign event in Tulsa, but didn’t go. So the event was surprisingly thinly attended, even though the Trump team had announced beforehand that no chair would be left empty.
But the digital-savvy teenagers went a step further. They grabbed the popular hashtag of the anti-black lives matter movement – #WhiteLivesMatter – and spread it massively on social networks.
However, they always provided it with GIFs, pictures or videos of K-Pop bands. As a result, the algorithms suddenly associated the hashtag with music instead of politics, which made it almost impossible to spread the racist messages with this hashtag.
And then there are digital anti-trump campaigns in the US election campaign that are so subtle that hardly anyone notices them.
Use Facebook ads to change voters’ minds?
That includes the “Barometer”. Behind it is a Facebook tool developed by former Facebook employee James Barnes. It is designed to test the reaction of users to Facebook advertising in real time.
Interestingly, Barnes first used the tool in the 2016 US election campaign – for Donald Trump’s camp. Now he wants to reverse his actions and has joined forces with the politically leftist group “Acronym” to do so.
They are currently still testing the tool. For this purpose they have compiled a list of Trump supporters in five US states. They will first be asked some questions on Facebook about the political system in the USA. Those who do not answer the questions correctly will end up in the test group. It is said that less informed users are most susceptible to advertising.
These test users are then presented with various advertising clips – without their knowledge, by the way – and directly afterwards with surveys that match the topic.
For example: a clip on the impeachment proceedings of Donald Trump is played. Afterwards you see a poll on the popularity of the US president.
The aim is to find out whether negative Trump advertising will lead to Trump fans being able to change their minds on Facebook. Apparently this does not seem to work very well with anti-trump slogans, but it does work with videos in which conservative journalists criticize Trump.
Also, Trump supporters don’t seem to mind when they see how badly Trump is handling the Corona crisis, but they do when the helpers in the health industry are doing badly.
All this is still in an initial test phase. But the Democrats are hoping that they will be able to reach voters on the net (and change their minds) against Donald Trump, who is so digitally present in the US election campaign.
However, a counter-trend could get in their way in the process.
US election campaign: Is the phase of digital protests over?
Current surveys show that almost half (46 percent) of all social media users in the USA no longer want to deal with political issues in social media.
Perhaps this is the first sign that the phase of digital protests in the US election campaign is slowly fading away. But performance artist Noah Mickens is already one step further. He says: “Instead of arguing on the Internet and criticizing Trump digitally, his fellow citizens should rather take action offline.
Because he’s certainly not wrong to ask: “Who are you talking about when you criticize Trump? Trump has certainly become a symbol in recent years for many things that US citizens do not like in their country, whether this is always justified or not.
A better way to protest “against Trump” is therefore to simply vote more often – even at the local or regional level – or, for example, to support organizations that work for goals that are important to you – be it human rights organizations or climate protection organizations.
And then Mickens has another unusual suggestion: make friends with the other side. After all, 20 percent of the US population elected Donald Trump as president. Perhaps it would be more helpful to talk to them directly than to yell at them on the Internet.