Winning on Twitter. Losing IRL.

 

shutterstock_215253016-2In an interesting — and blissfully short — Medium post, writer Sean Blanda asks a good question:

… the next time you feel compelled to share a link on social media about current events, ask yourself why you are doing it. Is it because that link brings to light information you hadn’t considered? Or does it confirm your world view, reminding your circle of intellectual teammates that you’re not on the Other Side?

What’s he’s pointing to, essentially, is the tendency for a vast number of people to use social media as a way to signal that they’re part of a group. Posting a link becomes a way to circle the wagons:

What happens instead of genuine intellectual curiosity is the sharing of Slate or Onion or Fox News or Red State links. Sites that exist almost solely to produce content to be shared so friends can pat each other on the back and mock the Other Side. Look at the Other Side! So dumb and unable to see this the way I do!

Blanda goes on to suggest some thoughtful ways around this, but I’m more interested in the political ramifications. My theory is that — for many — posting and tweeting and sharing count as political activity. But there are only two political activities that really matter for citizens, when you get right down to it: organizing and voting.

The Organizer-in-Chief knows this. It’s how he got to the White House. It wasn’t through Facebook sharing or YouTube videos — it was by using those things as tools to identify true believers, and then get those believers out there on the street, IRL, as the kids say.

IRL matters.

Polls in Iowa suggested a Trump victory but, IRL, he didn’t do so well. Why? Maybe his supporters have convinced themselves — with help from the Twitter-addicted candidate — that sharing and tweeting and talking to pollsters is a meaningful political activity.

It isn’t.

Frederik deBoer is an academic — and, I’m pretty sure, super left-wing — who has written an interesting post about just this phenomenon, from the liberal perspective. He calls it “Getting past the coalition of the cool.” Just substitute “the right” for the “the left” or “conservative” for “liberal” in the following and see if it doesn’t apply to our side, too:

As usual, I blame the internet, which I’m more and more convinced is one of the worst things to ever happen to the left. It encourages people to collapse any distinction between their work life, their social life, and their political life. “Hey, that person who tweets about the TV shows I like also dislikes injustice,” which over time becomes “I can identify an ally by the TV shows they like.”

And more, but this time just replace all the lefty stuff he likes with the righty stuff we like:

Establishment power controls our institutions, and thus wins by not losing. The left needs to make active change, and it needs to do so in spite of inherent and structural disadvantages. The moneyed have money; the powerful have power. The left only has people power. And so our coalition can’t be subject to the artificial constraints that the emphasis on social culture and language create. You can’t take on inequality and injustice with a coalition of people who use the same slang, listen to the same music, and post the same emojis that you do. That will never be sufficient. And so we have to rebuild the distinction between solidarity and friendship. We have to stop acting like cultural consumption and the use of slang are meaningful indicators of political connection. We have to stop judging people for their social foibles and dressing it up as political critique. You have to be willing to sacrifice your carefully curated social performance and be willing to work with people who are not like you.

Makes sense to me. And it explains a lot about both why Trump has succeeded so far and why he now faces some stiff uphill on the way to the nomination.

But it also suggests that the more cloistered we are, the weaker we are as a political power. Because politics is all about IRL.

There are 20 comments.

  1. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor

    We’ve known this for a while. Why Facebook hurts democratic movements. Written in 2009 and just as applicable to us as to Azerbaijan:

    There are lots of things about Facebook that annoy me (mostly how it went from being a useful way to find out what your coolest friends were doing, listening to or reading to becoming an echo chamber of your most annoying friends’ scores on idiotic quizzes, but that’s a different blog post on a different blog) but the thing that bothers me most these days is all the groups and petitions devoted to “supporting” various democratic movements.

    Moldova introduced itself to hundreds of thousand clicktivists earlier this year. Then there was Iran. …

    First, Facebook groups prolong the illusion held by many in opposition movements … challenging despots requires hard, risky groundwork, convincing skeptical voters in your own country that you’re responsible enough to be trusted with the reins of power and that it’s worth the risk to join you.

    Second, it prolongs the illusion that organizing is as easy as clicking a button. It’s a lot more fun to organize several thousand Europeans and Americans to support your “cause” than it is to mobilize IDPs still living in train cars 14 years after the oil-rich country lost a war. …

    Third, it diminishes the stakes. If people in Azerbaijan truly want to boot the kleptocrats (and there is plenty of evidence to suggest most don’t), they have to join civil society organizations or political parties or labor unions that oppose the government. They have to volunteer to monitor elections. As a result, jobs will be lost, university places sacrificed, nights spent in jail and heads cracked. The idea that it can be done any other way is an insult to the people who have tried and succeeded (or, tried and failed).

    She’s a very shrewd observer; her blog is worth your time.

    • #1
    • February 3, 2016, at 4:41 AM PDT
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  2. Randy Webster Member

    This is all well and good, but collapses when you look at Trump’s demographics. If the pollsters are correct, Trump’s support mainly comes from working class voters, i.e., those, I suppose, least likely to use Twitter.

    • #2
    • February 3, 2016, at 4:43 AM PDT
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  3. Guruforhire Member

    I think you are misapplying it. I think its better focused on movement conservatives and to businesses like ricochet.

    Trump has made a naked play for the 40% or so disaffected middle, and that always had a risk of poor turn out.

    What we know is that is that he has energized 40% of registered primary voters, but 25% of people who actually vote.

    The lesson applied here is for places like ricochet/NR/Weekly Standard et al to reach these people and not alienate them further (epic fail so far). There are as many right of center registered voters who are disaffected as there are black voters (~10%).

    The Ricochet/NR/Weekly Standard et al message is “look at me and how special and smart I am and can I have a cookie,” and more importantly “Look at me and how I am totally not like those other totally bad people and how stupid they are and totally not like me.” This is the in group signaling that the article is talking about.

    I think you should seriously start considering the message that the ricochet main feed sends to people already not on the reservation. The only plausible guy running on not invading all the places is the xenophobic second coming of hitler.

    • #3
    • February 3, 2016, at 4:48 AM PDT
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  4. Guruforhire Member

    The larger problem is that the internet has mixed audiences. Talking inside the group is always different than talking outside the group.

    Now the in group conversation is visible for all. That is the challenge.

    The left could talk about the terribleness of “white people” and their total dispossession in group and it didn’t hurt them. Now its in the open, and they have collapsing support among vulnerable white people.

    The republicans have a similar problem about how stupid and terrible working class people are and that resolutions to their real problems is not just unwise but illegitimate.

    • #4
    • February 3, 2016, at 5:02 AM PDT
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  5. Franz Drumlin Member

    I sometimes include interweb links cuz other writers sometimes say things about ideas ‘n’ stuff like that much more better than me.

    • #5
    • February 3, 2016, at 5:19 AM PDT
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  6. Profile Photo Member

    Randy Webster:…Trump’s support mainly comes from working class voters, i.e., those, I suppose, least likely to use Twitter.

    I wouldn’t be too fast, you’d be surprised how many among the rural and rust belt working class follow Trump on twitter. AND they are the group most likely to use FB. I’m from a working-class, rust belt part of the world, and my FB is filled with former high school classmates, cousins (and I have a ton of ’em), people from shared varied local clubs and interests from genealogy, antiques, local history, and hunting; and they are all a gog for Trump. They all post about it on FB using meme’s and other short hand all the time. They range from 18 to 78 in age. They are mostly my non-church going, non-political (until now), non-ideological friends and family. Most are just acquaintances with a shared connection in my past, or we share an interest in a local topic. They are the opposite of my close family and friends who tend to be very conservative and religious, or liberal and artsy-fartsy or SJW types, who reject Trump from both ends of the spectrum. But my other connections (his supporters) all think they are working for the Donald who loves and cares for them.

    • #6
    • February 3, 2016, at 5:21 AM PDT
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  7. Liz Member
    Liz

    In 2009 during the protests in Iran, Twitter was useful to Iranians on the ground because they were able to find in real time the locations of other protesters and join them. Twitter alerted them to the presence of the Basij, and helped keep them safe. Twitter users in the free world, when they heard the Iranian government was blocking access to social media, set up web proxies to keep the protesters connected.

    When social media does this, it is a valid tool. Most of the time, though, it does nothing of the kind. On the contrary, it seems to promote, as Claire’s comment notes, meaningless hashtag activism, from which nothing comes, except the self-satisfaction of social mediaites.

    • #7
    • February 3, 2016, at 5:26 AM PDT
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  8. Randy Webster Member

    St. Salieri:

    Randy Webster:…Trump’s support mainly comes from working class voters, i.e., those, I suppose, least likely to use Twitter.

    I wouldn’t be too fast, you’d be surprised how many among the rural and rust belt working class follow Trump on twitter. AND they are the group most likely to use FB.

    This may just be a case of me being out of touch. I don’t do social media.

    • #8
    • February 3, 2016, at 5:28 AM PDT
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  9. Profile Photo Member

    Guruforhire:….The republicans have a similar problem about how stupid and terrible working class people are and that resolutions to their real problems is not just unwise but illegitimate.

    This is a two edged sword.

    I agree that we’ve lost these voters and done so at our peril (us who consider ourselves conservatives – not necessarily you Guru). I think we’ve done them a disservice and we are reaping the whirl-wind. I think the GOP is getting exactly what it deserves.

    However, there is the issue of the solutions these voters desire, and much of it, at least I don’t believe, is healthy for the body politic.

    It seems from the Trump supporters I know in three states, they are basically hankering for the 1950s New Deal consensus, plus protectionism, plus a strong love of country. They are not interested in the things that make libertarian and many (sadly not all) conservative hearts go pitter-patter (limited government). They only seem to have vague aspirations and fears (now those aspirations are often noble and good, and those fears often realistic and grounded in the reality of their lives – that’s the part where I have sympathy and agree with them), but it is the solutions that I find unworkable, dangerous, or unconstitutional. I have written very little on this primary season because, I don’t know what to think.

    I just don’t understand how Trump will solve these issues, though I understand why people support him.

    • #9
    • February 3, 2016, at 5:33 AM PDT
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  10. Guruforhire Member

    St. Salieri:

    This is a two edged sword.

    I agree that we’ve lost these voters and done so at our peril (us who consider ourselves conservatives – not necessarily you Guru). I think we’ve done them a disservice and we are reaping the whirl-wind. I think the GOP is getting exactly what it deserves.

    However, there is the issue of the solutions these voters desire, and much of it, at least I don’t believe, is healthy for the body politic.

    It seems from the Trump supporters I know in three states, they are basically hankering for the 1950s New Deal consensus, plus protectionism, plus a strong love of country. They are not interested in the things that make libertarian and many (sadly not all) conservative hearts go pitter-patter (limited government). They only seem to have vague aspirations and fears (now those aspirations are often noble and good, and those fears often realistic and grounded in the reality of their lives – that’s the part where I have sympathy and agree with them), but it is the solutions that I find unworkable, dangerous, or unconstitutional. I have written very little on this primary season because, I don’t know what to think.

    I just don’t understand how Trump will solve these issues, though I understand why people support him.

    Responding to this is a thread in and of itself and I am lazy.

    but consider:

    • ends and means inversion
    • The effect of time
    • and ships that sailed
    • #10
    • February 3, 2016, at 5:42 AM PDT
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  11. Profile Photo Member

    Guruforhire:

    St. Salieri:

    Responding to this is a thread in and of itself and I am lazy.

    but consider:

    • ends and means inversion
    • The effect of time
    • and ships that sailed

    Well, I’m simple and don’t know what your bulletins points should lead me to think – but if I have a thought, it is the Trump ship has sailed as well. I think we are looking at a bright social-democrat European style future no matter who is elected. By “bright” of course I mean the beginnings of hell on earth, but it will at least be a pleasant beginning if you have the right zip code and connections, and don’t live too long.

    • #11
    • February 3, 2016, at 5:59 AM PDT
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  12. Guruforhire Member

    Conservativism is a means to an end of a better future, so is the constitution. They aren’t ends unto themselves. If it cannot produce a better future for a broad enough group of people to keep the country from burning down it is not intellectually valid. I think that we are reaching a point where this is no longer apparent or reaching a point close enough to post-scarcity that it is no longer applicable.

    Conservatives need to produce solutions which provide relief to lived problems within a time horizon meaningful to people’s lives. Most reformicon solutions and doctrinaire conservative solutions if they provide relief at all is unclear, or so far in the future that it is irrelevant to the conversation.

    The constitution is an increasingly hollow pantomime. Unilateral disarmament is foolish. Its getting on a ship that sailed. We need a credible conservative post-constitutional governance, you will never talk the left into adhering to the fundamental contract, and we have to make peace with the current reality. If you are a more philisophically minded person, conservatives are trapped in an is-ought fallacy. They start from the world as they think it ought to be and not as it is.

    • #12
    • February 3, 2016, at 6:34 AM PDT
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  13. Trinity Waters Inactive

    Guruforhire:Conservatism is a means to an end of a better future, so is the constitution. They aren’t ends unto themselves. If it cannot produce a better future for a broad enough group of people to keep the country from burning down it is not intellectually valid……

    The constitution is an increasingly hollow pantomime. Unilateral disarmament is foolish. Its getting on a ship that sailed. We need a credible conservative post-constitutional governance, you will never talk the left into adhering to the fundamental contract, and we have to make peace with the current reality. If you are a more philosophically minded person, conservatives are trapped in an is-ought fallacy. They start from the world as they think it ought to be and not as it is.

    You have stated the case perfectly. The turgid intransigence of the GOP to actually solve problems has directly caused the rise of Trump and his ilk. They represent timidity. Trump is a rather sketchy character to be our leader, but at least he lives in the real world.

    To put the issue in personal terms, I’m anxious for my property taxes to return to some semblance of a normal level that supports basic city services. What policy emanating from NR will remove the $1,500 additional portion I’m robbed of to fund demonstrably failing local schools for illegals, here in my sanctuary city. This unhappy circumstance has causes on many levels of government, each level ignoring the law.

    Cruz.

    • #13
    • February 3, 2016, at 7:22 AM PDT
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  14. TG Thatcher
    TG

    Guruforhire: ” … you will never talk the left into adhering to the fundamental contract. “

    This is probably true, Guru. But after I acknowledge the truth in what you’ve said, here, I wonder if there is any way we could trust the left to adhere to any [acceptable to “us”] new contract?

    And then I think that it’s all hopeless.

    • #14
    • February 3, 2016, at 7:39 AM PDT
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  15. The Reticulator Member
    • #15
    • February 3, 2016, at 7:50 AM PDT
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  16. Merina Smith Inactive

    I agree that posting pre-canned poltical memes is a way of signaling in-groupness, but I have also seen genuine questions and discussions on face book. Discussions can be IRL and do some persuading, or at least help people understand that there are legitimate reasons for views besides your own. This is all tricky, however, because political discussion is fraught with peril, especially these days, so persuasion on a personal–IRL–level is hard…. Some of it has worked with my kids, however, so I don’t say it is hopeless. Often the best thing is that people get hit upside the head with reality sooner or later, if they are lucky, and then they become conservative.

    • #16
    • February 3, 2016, at 8:07 AM PDT
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  17. Hammer, The Member

    Guruforhire:I think you are misapplying it. I think its better focused on movement conservatives and to businesses like ricochet.

    Trump has made a naked play for the 40% or so disaffected middle, and that always had a risk of poor turn out.

    What we know is that is that he has energized 40% of registered primary voters, but 25% of people who actually vote.

    The lesson applied here is for places like ricochet/NR/Weekly Standard et al to reach these people and not alienate them further (epic fail so far). There are as many right of center registered voters who are disaffected as there are black voters (~10%).

    The Ricochet/NR/Weekly Standard et al message is “look at me and how special and smart I am and can I have a cookie,” and more importantly “Look at me and how I am totally not like those other totally bad people and how stupid they are and totally not like me.” This is the in group signaling that the article is talking about.

    I think you should seriously start considering the message that the ricochet main feed sends to people already not on the reservation. The only plausible guy running on not invading all the places is the xenophobic second coming of hitler.

    I disagree. Specifically political sites are not generally designed to appeal to a broad audience, in the respect that you’re talking about. Obviously, as a business, they would love to have everyone reading, but then that sort of defeats the purpose for many of the people who come here. Sometimes, outreach is your goal; other times, honing your own intellect is more the goal, or maybe just getting away from RL (the I seems silly there) in order to converse with like-mined people. So yeah, it’s alienating to some, but that’s kind of the point. If you strive to be all-inclusive all the time, you can only really do that by compromising/neglecting your own values – I think places like Ricochet take a middle ground. We’re not trying to convince the left, but encourage the right; yet, there is massive diversity, here. Whichever side isn’t currently being promoted tends to complain, but that is human nature.

    I think the above sentiment borders on the whole “nothing is right or wrong” mentality.

    We disagree about the way that Trump’s “disaffected middle” applies to places like Ricochet/NR/WeeklyStandard…

    • #17
    • February 3, 2016, at 8:49 AM PDT
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  18. Old Bathos Member

    It is in the nature of social media that (a) it allows people to realize they are not alone and can lead to a sometimes powerful group self-awareness, but (b) once created, that social-media shaped group gets locked into the channels that fostered it and becomes isolated and consumed by negative communications.

    Here is a short TED talk by an Egyptian about this phenomenon in how social media was involved in the rise and fall of the Arab Spring.

    In some ways social media is a kind of market failure. In theory, the open competition of ideas should produce better, tested ideas. In practice, social media fosters the partisan appetites that cause junk ideas to thrive.

    Social Media 3.0 needs to be about users actually wanting to have false assumptions and glib understandings hammered into more substantive cognitive states, a more self-correcting, user-improving state. Partisans should be in habit of pruning the deadwood from their own side rather than tossing it at the Other Side.

    • #18
    • February 3, 2016, at 9:29 AM PDT
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  19. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor

    Old Bathos: Social Media 3.0 needs to be about users actually wanting to have false assumptions and glib understandings hammered into more substantive cognitive states, a more self-correcting, user-improving state. Partisans should be in habit of pruning the deadwood from their own side rather than tossing it at the Other Side.

    That was the initial dream of some of the libertarian/programmer types: The Internet would allow people to prune the nonsense that crashes the program off, and let people focus on useful code. Might still happen.

    • #19
    • February 3, 2016, at 9:38 AM PDT
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  20. James Gawron Thatcher

    Rob & all,

    I take the contrary point of view on this. Facebook isn’t a step down for those who were diligently reading their newspaper’s and books but a step up for those lost in cable tv and special effects movies. At least facebook requires some reading, uploading, and yes clicking to participate.

    What is obvious facebook is a least common denominator medium. We should be looking at how to move people up from facebook and invest their time into more productive venues like…hmmm… …Richochet!

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #20
    • February 3, 2016, at 9:47 AM PDT
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