Twitter’s Echo Chamber

Since Trump was elected to the office of the President of the United States on November 8th, 2016 many women mourned the election of a man who was openly and proudly a misogynist. During Trump’s campaign, the world got to see a video and audio recording of Trump proudly stating that he could “grab her by the pussy.” Beyond the rank filthiness of the comment, the emboldened statement was a calling card for multiple women to speak out about being sexually assaulted by the man who would be president. Even with the overwhelming evidence that this man was not a supporter of women, let alone women’s rights, Trump won the election.

It’s not so simple now. The American Intelligence Community is investigating the evidence that we were hit hard by Russian interference that tipped the scales just enough to provide the electoral votes for Trump to ascend to the highest office in the land. It is well documented that Putin, the leader of Russia, despised Hillary Clinton and engaged in an all out tactical assault via the Internet to prevent her from becoming President of the United States.

The day after the 2017 Inauguration, women all over the world took to the streets in a peaceful coordinated protest against Trump and Vice President Pence. The signs were filled with intelligent and clever slogans. I attended the Los Angeles march and saw thousands of women and men supporting women’s rights.

The march was well planned, and much of the organization took place on social media platforms. Facebook and Twitter were the go-to sites. They disseminated locations and logistics for marches all over the world. There were helpful links to ideas for making signs and also how to march since many of the people were too young to remember anti-war protests from the 1960’s and 1970’s. The movement was peaceful, and the people marching were well-informed thanks in part to social media.

After the march, many women and men wanted to continue their personal protests against a new administration that was growing more hostile by the day. In only a few months America heard disturbing terms such as, “Alternative Facts.” Trump, not a reader and illiterate by intellectual standards, was glued to Fox News for 5 or more hours a day. He was easily swayed by fake news stories about science, climate change, and immigration. Trump would not give press conferences and instead, take to Twitter to type out weird and sometimes incoherent statements in 140 characters or less.

The floodgates to Twitter had been opened.

I had never really given Twitter much thought. Pre-Trump many people signed on to Twitter and created accounts only to get bored and leave them to languish in the Internet desert of forgotten accounts. Things changed with “Trump Tweets,” as they became known. This hostile President took to twitter in his echo chamber of one.

Twitter became the social media du jour. People against Trump waited with bated breath to have their own 140-character rebuttal moments after a Trump tweet. For the most part, his tweets were pity filled “poor me” laments or he lashed out at Hillary because it still bothered him that she won the popular vote. Trump would tweet about things that were meaningless but filled with hostile energy. I voted for Hillary, but I considered that last year’s news. I wanted to see what this man was going to do now that he was President besides tweet like an angry teenager.

With that in mind, I took to Twitter to see what was going on. Cable news always appeared to be playing catch-up to the latest “Trump Tweet.” I logged on, dusted off the cobwebs from my account, and started to read. It was a whole new landscape. People were angry and scared and made no bones about tweeting their disdain for the new President. I started to follow more people, and they followed back. Suddenly I was doubling my follows and followers every week. I started out with 3K followers and now am clocking in at 23K, most of them Trump haters.

I fell into the trap, too.

I began tweeting my dislike for the president and even made a few replies to his public tweets. One tweet, in particular, annoyed me. He took a meeting and wanted us to pat him on the back. One meeting? Obama probably had 2-5 meetings every day he was in the White House. Trump needed a pat on the back for one meeting. It was laughable at best. I got over a thousand people liking my rebuttal tweet to Trump. It felt good to be noticed, but then I felt a little narcissistic for being pleased with the response. I hadn’t written anything newsworthy, but I got a lot of pats on the back. I had to tell myself step back and look at the big picture.

My follower base was growing. For the most part, my followers said the same things I did. We liked the same tweets. We re-tweeted the same tweets. Did we just land in our own echo chamber?

The positive side of Twitter is that it’s a fantastic way to broadcast information beyond traditional limits of geography and demographics. When the Science March took shape, Twitter’s reach across state and even country borders was huge. I knew where the rallies and marches took place from Hawaii to London. Australia began sharing their Science March photos long before New York took to the streets. It was a gathering of support and information that traveled at electron speed across the planet.

Special elections were also big on Twitter. I knew more about the special election of Jon Ossoff in Georgia than some nearby congressional bids in my state during the last general election. I joined in the groundswell and tweeted about how Georgians should vote for Ossoff. Stepping back though, did they really want a liberal from California to tell them how to vote? In the end, Ossoff did lose to the GOP candidate, and Twitter didn’t seem to impact the election results.

The attempted repeal of Obamacare, which is dying a slow death in the Senate, has been a hot button issue and lots of people were tweeting over and over about it. The problem was that the people tweet to the same individuals whom “like” and re-tweeted back: it was an echo chamber, just a larger one. I do think it made a difference, but there was a saturation point where the echo drowned itself out.

The left was not talking to the right, and the right was not talking to the left. When the two sides overlapped, it usually resulted in name-calling and few bridges being built. On the positive side, when special elections or health care was on the table people were mobilized to get talking points. The most productive result was that people felt their voices counted and called their members of Congress to tell them their views. But after that call to Congress, what then?

People became addicted to Twitter. They were forming groups and cliques and creating little chat rooms using the Twitter Direct Message feature. I was invited to join at least 10 of them, perhaps more. What started out as political information, often digressed into typical chat rooms with self-appointed leaders. A few leaders were amazing, reminding me of volunteer coordinators from my days working on Obama campaigns, but they were few and far between. Most were people using these rooms for gossip, hooking up, and petty squabbles. Social Media at its worst. I would eventually remove myself from all the Twitter Direct Message rooms.

Twitter is a patchwork quilt of thousands of groups looking for like-minded people to agree with. When all that political energy is hidden in a dark echo chamber within the Internet, is it a movement of change or just a dark room where people reach out and don’t really know who is listening?

Science and Technology are our inexorable future, but great work is done in the open, face-to-face, rolling up our sleeves and building bridges. That takes time, education, hard work, and perseverance. Twitter needs to evolve if it’s going to be a valuable social media platform for politics. Currently, Twitter is an echo chamber with little room for intellectual, social, or political growth.

Photo Credit: Ian D. Keating Flickr via Compfight cc

About B. Janine Morison

Janine holds a BA cum laude in History from USC, a Professional Certificate in Feature Film Writing from UCLAx, earned with distinction, and an AA with honors in physical science/geology from Pasadena City College. She wrote a bi-weekly newspaper column called "Cyber Culture" about the Internet and culture. Janine worked in radio as a daily on-air announcer in San Francisco and a stringer for ABC radio, interviewing Major League Baseball players and managers. She has extensive journalism skills and wrote PSA’s and commercials for radio and appeared in an Air France print ad with Gene Kelly. Janine has worked in all areas of film/TV production. Along with her love of film/TV/music, Janine has a passion for science and interviewed Nobel Prize winner, Richard Feynman just prior to his death. Fascinated with technology, Janine worked at NASA/JPL as a computer tech for two unmanned spacecraft missions and a military war games simulation project. Recently, Janine completed a feature film action adventure script, Stormstoppers and developed a documentary about Keith Moon, drummer for “The Who.”

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