A few days ago, one of my professors asked us to watch a speech on a topic that is irrelevant to this conversation. I went to YouTube, watched the 20-minute speech, and, as soon as it ended, YouTube of course decided on my behalf how I should be spending the next 43 minutes of my life and started playing this video. (warning: clicking on this link will make you hate Trump less a week from today. You’ve been warned.)
The video is about Trump’s journey to the White House from 1980 to-date. It takes you through Trump’s career and his denial, time and time again, that he’s interested in politics or that he cared about the oval, then walks you through how that changed as he saw the need to save America. The video was decent; it showed Trump in a way that I had never seen him before. Turns out (judging by this video) he was, at some point, young and actually handsome (can you believe it), and he wasn’t always the radical that I’ve come to believe he is every other day. I realized after I’d been watching for about 30 minutes that this was the longest I was able to watch anything about him in one sitting, and then noticed the lullaby-like music that was edited into the video and playing throughout. Then it hit me. I had never seen a video put together by Trump supporters. Hm, I thought. I sent the video to a couple trusted friends, who aren’t gonna think I’ve radicalized overnight just because I’ve watched a pro-Trump video, and went to bed, hating him a little bit less.
The next few days, I went about my business. Reading for classes, researching and writing midterm papers, a bit of social media here, a bit there, catching up on news, tweeting, watching daily and nightly shows, checking out articles that popped up in my feed, following stories about the ISIS runaway brides (another topic for another day), others about AOC, the presidential elections. Everything, really. And every online interaction or piece of info that I was exposed to made me hate Trump a little bit less. Pondering for a few more seconds than I did the day before whether he really is as bad as I’ve been led to believe.
Now I’m not confused by what happened. I know exactly what happened. I spent almost a decade in the communications world, which meant I had to understand not only framing narratives and changing perceptions, no. I also had to understand how communications work in a digital age. How, through algorithms (which I know just enough about to be able to understand what they do), your feeds everywhere (and I mean, everywhere: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Google. Everywhere) can change dramatically, overnight, just because you watched one video that was produced by ‘the other side,’ whatever the other side may be. Or, if you’re a centrist like me (I know, we’re nearly extinct), produced by a side on the far [insert whatever here], and you’re not into far [anything].
The point of this post is not Trump, believe it or not. I don’t care what you think of him. I don’t care if you vote for him in the next election or not. In fact, I don’t care who you vote for. Here is what I do care about, or, rather, terrifies me.
I know exactly what goes on behind closed social media doors. I know exactly what goes on behind narrative-and-story-crafting-and-perception-shifting doors. I know the power of constructivism. Hell, I did it for a living for a whole decade and will likely continue to in some capacity after my Master’s. Because I know. I know what it can do. And, yet, all this knowledge barely changed the outcome of the ‘war for my mind,’ a term I read today for the first time, and I thought it hit the nail on the head. That’s exactly what it is. I don’t know that there’s a better way to describe it. A war for my mind. The same author said ‘if you are online, your attention is like a piece of contested territory. States, companies, and people you may never have heard of are fighting for it in conflicts that you may or may not realize are unfolding around you.’ And we come back to my original point. What terrifies me.
I know all of this, and I still fell for it. Perhaps not as hard as someone who doesn’t know (since I still do my research and check my facts), but I fell for it. And that’s what terrifies me. Are the forces that got me to dislike Trump in the first place, dislike him less later, the same forces that got me to like Obama in the first place and doubt my admiration towards him as soon as I started working in the field and understanding what goes on behind closed social media doors. Behind narrative-and-story-crafting-and-perception-shifting doors?
It won’t be news to anyone when I say that Facebook’s Zuckerberg, Twitter’s Dorsey, and YouTube’s Hurley, Chen, and Karim didn’t know what they were getting themselves into when they first founded the platforms that would change the world as we know it. They had no idea the legal, political, and moral repercussions that they would have to deal with in the years to come. And they’re still not ready to take on this role, nor should they have to. The platforms grew far beyond anything any of them could have imagined. They have armed us with great opportunities. With great power. But with all of this greatness come great responsibilities.
This post is not about Trump. It is not about Obama. Hell, it’s about no one.
This post is a wake-up call to those who don’t know and a reminder to those who do know that we are responsible for everything we say, every post we like, every statement we share. Our actions and reactions could change the course of history. This is the kind of power I’m talking about. The kind of power that rallied the masses behind Obama all the way to the White House in 2008. The kind of power that put Trump in an Oval he never thought he’d step foot into in 2016. The same power that will put him in it again, or worse yet, someone who’s far more detrimental to this great nation. To the world. The same power that ISIS employed to recruit their army of terrorists. People among us were turned. That kind of power.
So, before you open your online mouth to say what you think you want to say, check your facts. Recheck your facts. Don’t believe everything you read. Every video you watch.
This isn’t anybody’s responsibility but ours. We have unprecedented power. Let us use it to better, not destroy, our world.
 What Clausewitz Can Teach Us About War on Social Media; Singer, Emerson; October 2018.