The hard right, a social echo-chamber and post fact society - A perfect storm.
Today is November 9th and Americans have had their say, selecting Donald Trump to be their next President. And a large part of the rest of the world is looking on in shock, while in countries like China and Russia, you have to imagine they're pretty pleased with the outcome. The feelings of many of us are akin to the feelings we had waking up to the news that the Brexit referendum had passed. We're both horrified and worried in equal measure that America has made an epic mistake and elevated a man whose sole qualification for running a country seems to be that he was on TV for a while and that he can insult, slur and denigrate better than anyone else . The alternative wasn't exactly appealing though, to be fair, and in the end, that's what probably cost the Democratic party the most.
As political campaigns go, this was particularly brutal, and like the Brexit campaign, supporters played their part in this war of words, particularly on social media. The ability to comment and share to a wide audience, married to a huge mistrust of the mainstream media has led to a situation where supposition, misinformation and outright lies are relayed to a receptive public and any counter argument, based in fact and legitimacy is written off as 'liberal' media bias.
But what has the hard right got to do with this?
I read an interesting piece by Jake Whitney in the Daily Beast about how the Right destroyed the truth. Their Modus Operendi of disparaging any news stories that supported a more liberal point of view (climate change for example) over the last 20 years has led to this situation. By painting legitimate, mainstream news as having a liberal agenda, the right has painted the truth into a corner and even they, now, will have difficulty in retrieving it from the clutches of those who would support Trump or Brexit. Their allies in the press, like Fox News, The Daily Mail and Daily Express regularly play fast and loose with the facts, but because they're towing the line the right want them to the attacks on them are far fewer and far less vocal.
The hard right have upped the ante too. The open hostility to the mainstream press - even those among the right leaning press who aren't right leaning enough for them - means that threats, sexist, racist and anti Semitic comments are no longer shocking. They're part of the process of being a journalist on social media.
Along with this worrying trend we have sites that pass themselves off as news outlets, spewing out 'stories' that are, at best, woefully inaccurate. It doesn't matter that there's no verification or fact checking - if it was on Facebook - well it must be true. Unless it was from a 'Libtard' in the 'Liberal' media.
I've seen the videos of Hitler speaking. I've heard the people who were there describe the feeling and being swept up in the emotions of it all and it being ok because, well everyone else was in the same situation. Well social media is a modern day version of that. It's ok to hold a certain viewpoint because there are many others who feel like you and that legitimises the racism, xenophobia, homophobia and whatever other 'ism' or 'obia' you wish to ascribe. Within the walled garden of social media, a viewpoint, no matter how irrational, can find an audience because people can hide behind an avatar.
And so the hard right can continue to spread their hate and attack facts by basically saying "yeah, well you're a libtard/homo/bitch so we know you're lying". The post fact society is basically this. There is no rational reason to disbelieve proven fact, but label it as a liberal media bias and people now have a reason they can hold on to when they reject it. So facts get lost to this growing group of people. And this is based on the fact that the right attacked any news organisation that doesn't fit their agenda for at least a generation.
While the right has been busy creating a mistrust of the mainstream media, the hard right have been busy peddling their rhetoric. When they're met with resistance in the form of fact, they already have a head start in 'disproving' these facts thanks to the mistrust. Social media then allows them to spread their own narrative to a receptive audience who are emboldened, knowing there are many others who feel like they do. And the most concerning thing? This won't go away after the votes have been counted.
It's a scary thought that this is the future my daughter faces when it comes to political discourse. As an Irishman I'm well used to politics being a key topic of conversation. There are very few conversations that are about politics that don't end in disagreement. And that's healthy. But we've got to claw back the truth from the clutches of those who would twist if for their own, scary, agenda.