In the opinion of many, Donald Trump was able to win the election because of a carefully targeted social media campaign that focused on building a database of users and attacking those with ads and media, rather than focusing on pre-existing demographics.
By constantly vilifying Hillary Clinton, Trump managed to not only get people who liked and supported him to be mobilized to vote, but get a lot of voters who were on the fence to believe that anything would be better than voting for Hillary. To this day, I have family members who admit that they think Trump is an absolute moron and is unfit to be President, but that their hands were tied because Hillary was so evil they couldn't vote for her.
As President, Trump hasn't been able to do much aside from make headlines for erroneous, offensive, and borderline insane claims. When he does apologize for saying something wrong, he tends to sidestep the blame and place it on other sources, like the time he wrongly claimed an attack in Sweden was spearheaded by a Muslim immigrant. It wasn't. So he said he wasn't at fault because he saw it on Fox News.
Although Trump's use of his Twitter account might seem like the ramblings of a mad uncle who trolls YouTube comments and parrots Alex Jones conspiracy theories, it turns out there may be a pretty brilliant strategy behind his postings.
University of Berkeley Professor, George Lakoff, laid out Trump's social media strategy after scrutinizing the President's reactionary post patterns. Donald's tweets, according to Lakoff, fall into one of four categories.
He provided examples of each and explains them in-depth.
According to this professor, almost all of the tactics employed by Trump are heavily rooted in deceit, lies, side-stepping issues or blaming them on others.
The first tactic, "pre-emptive framing" allows Trump to frame an argument that isn't really rooted in fact or ends up making a mountain out of a mole-hill. An example of this would be Hillary Clinton's housing of White House emails on a private server. Notice how Trump's outrage at this practice stops at Clinton, as him and his administration are doing the same thing.
The tweets either get his framing established first, knowing that whoever frames first tends to win. Or when things look bad for him, he diverts attention or attacks the messenger. And when he wants to test public opinion, he puts out an outrageous trial balloon.— George Lakoff (@GeorgeLakoff) January 3, 2018
Trump is able to get his message across after making such a bold claim because sites help disseminate his brazen idiocy. His supporters will inevitably come to Trump's aid and vehemently attack anyone who attacks him fomenting an even greater hullabaloo over what he said. This theory suggests that Trump doesn't care at the end of the day because, as the old saying goes: there's no such thing as bad publicity.
Each tweet gets his message retweeted so he dominates social media. Reporters, social media influencers, and many others fall for it hook, line, and sinker. Every time. They retweet, share, and repeat his messages ad infinitum. This helps Trump tremendously.— George Lakoff (@GeorgeLakoff) January 3, 2018
They may think they’re negating or undermining him, but that’s not how human brains work. As a cognitive scientist, I can tell you: repeating his messages only helps him.— George Lakoff (@GeorgeLakoff) January 3, 2018
Unfortunately, the media turned him into the popularity monster, love him or hate him, that he eventually became.
First, it focuses all attention on Trump’s antics. This makes his nonsense seem like the most important thing in the world. It’s called the “focusing illusion” – and it’s a large part of why he got elected in the first place. It makes him larger than life.— George Lakoff (@GeorgeLakoff) January 3, 2018
Because we're constantly talking about him, we're legitimizing him as a figure. Doesn't matter if we think he's a joke, we're still talking about him, usually more than anything or anyone else outside of our immediate relationships with family and friends.
Second, constant repetition of his Trump’s messages embeds them deeply in the brains of millions of people. Whether it’s locking up his opponents or threatening nuclear war, he has the power to control tens of millions of brains via tweets. He focuses them on his chosen topics.— George Lakoff (@GeorgeLakoff) January 3, 2018
Pointing out Trump's flaws and lies are seen as attacks by his loyal fan base and in a way, justifies the false, pre-emptive narrative that there's a "crusade" against him. "Mainstream Media" and "Fake News" can bring up all the valid, backed-up sources and evidence that they want, oftentimes bringing up Trump's old quotes and footage to show his hypocrisy, but much of his fanbase ultimately sees these as "attacks" and give them more reason to back the president.
Third, the constant attacks and outrage increase his credibility with his base. He can portray himself as a victim of the “establishment” – under constant attacks (which he provokes with tweets). He acts, his opponents only react. He is in heroic control.— George Lakoff (@GeorgeLakoff) January 3, 2018
Lakoff points out that reacting to Trump in this way and taking the low-hanging fruit isn't an effective means of discrediting him. By "stooping" down to his level, we're legitimizing his medium of communication and are thus legitimizing him.
I understand the desire to portray Trump as childish or deranged. But do you deal with a child or a deranged person by sinking to their level? Do you mock and scorn them, or trumpet their ridiculousness on the front page? No.— George Lakoff (@GeorgeLakoff) January 3, 2018
Instead, Lakoff thinks that Trump's bold claims should be met with this appropriate response:
Imagine if we took a different approach to Trump’s social media antics. Imagine if we put them in a small, quiet corner of the newspaper. Imagine if they were only a minor throwaway item at the end of the newscast. Imagine greeting them with calm clarity, not instant outrage.— George Lakoff (@GeorgeLakoff) January 3, 2018
Instead, if us, as the media, focused on things that actually matter, like how our government is tearing apart at the seams and not this drama fomented by a blowhard, we'd be able to lay the groundwork for some meaningful change.
Imagine keeping a steely focus on what actually matters: the dismantling of our government; Republicans robbing the middle class and poor to pay off the rich; Robert Mueller’s criminal investigation into the Trump Organization’s betrayal of America.— George Lakoff (@GeorgeLakoff) January 3, 2018
Imagine if we took back OUR power from this disgraceful man. Imagine if WE decided what was important, rather than dancing to Trump’s tune. Imagine if a tweet were just a tweet (or evidence in a criminal case), rather than the dictator of our reality.— George Lakoff (@GeorgeLakoff) January 3, 2018
So Lakoff proposed a simple three step plan for journalists and news commentators to follow:
Simply don't share what he writes, and you'll immediately help to focus on what is actually important.
Think of Trump as a puppeteer, his tweets as the strings,— George Lakoff (@GeorgeLakoff) January 3, 2018
and anyone who retweets/shares him as the puppet. Cut the damn strings!
Or we could laugh at him because he has small hands and tweets nonsensical words like "covfefe." What do you think?