#Election2016, Hidden In Plain Sight

The answer was there the whole time.

by Iyana Sarrafieh

For many Americans, 11/9 brought on two questions. First, “Is it finally over?” Second, “How did we get this wrong?” Many Democrats and Republicans thought (out loud) that there was no way Trump was going to win the 2016 Presidential Election. The polls, the pundits, the late night comedy news programs — they all assured us Hillary had it in the bag. Then came 11/9. So what happened?

For the past week we’ve heard a lot of explanations and rationalizations; however, as a student of online culture — I offer an explanation that was hidden in plain sight. Our social networks, which this election season played a greater role than ever before, held the answers — we just had trouble reading the data. Let’s start with Twitter.

Twitter got a lot of slack this election for being a portal for trolls and hate. Whether it was our President-elect or Pepe The Not-So-Innocent Frog, it seemed as if Twitter brought out the worst in us. It was a miss to think all this activity didn’t translate into real resentment. Twitter became a battleground that Trump won by sheer force with his late night tweets, early morning rants and direct attacks that came from a real person, not a marketing team (something Trump got credit for from his supporters.)

While Twitter was a battle of brawn, Facebook outsmarted most of us with its heavily criticized newsfeed algorithm. Facebook created this algorithm with the best intentions in 2009. The goal: to help us see what really mattered as the volume of content posted in a given day got out of control. They based their curation around what you “liked’ — makes total sense. However, we learned this year that a divided nation becomes deaf, dumb, and blind to the other side, if they are getting their news from a mob of mis-informed friends. Between fake new stories and heavily biased op-eds dominating our feeds, it was nearly impossible to “see” what was real. It affected our views of the candidates, which ultimately affected our polls, and the reporting on the polls. This left both sides stuck in their respective echo-chambers, but neither could totally grasp what was real.

That’s why on 11/7, GOP insiders continued to misjudge Trump’s ground swell, DNC loyalists kept laughing him off and the media looked at the polls and not the proof right in front of them, the actual things people were saying to friends and family on their social networks. Resulting in an election day that shocked most people, Trump supporters included.

So in the words of Solange, “Where do we go from here?” Well, if I can offer one more opinion to the stack — I think we need to embrace the power our social media networks hold, to not only influence us but to understand others. We live in the era of Modern Media Culture, where TV doesn’t deliver the news, people do. If Facebook is going to create echo-chambers around our confirmation bias, then the media will have to look at Facebook as the voice of the people, not a poll! And as private citizens we have to become more aware of our own news consumption and work hard to fight our own biases by following voices that challenge our own.

Social media networks are awesome tools, but we use them, we can’t let them use us. If we are going to live in this modern media world of algorithms and instant-filterless communications, it’s on all of us to see the writing on the newsfeed walls.

If not, it’s Kanye 2020!

Note: Facebook’s algorithm as it relates to news and the 2016 election has become a hot topic around the world. For more, we encourage you to read:

Fast Company, The Algorithmic Democracy

Wall Street Journal, Blue Feed, Red Feed

The New York Times, Mark Zuckerberg Is In Denial

Iyana Sarrafieh is a Social Media Director at Mistress.