NIKHILA NATARAJAN : New York
With 14 days to go before election day, US president Donald Trump is leaning into his greatest hits playlist from 2016 — “lock him up” for Joe Biden and Co. instead of “lock her up” for Hillary Clinton, framing scientists as the bad guys coming for American freedoms, injecting the fear of illegal immigrants on your front porch, and a “rigged election”.
“People are tired of hearing Fauci and all these idiots,” Trump said while speaking to campaign aides on a conference call. “Every time he goes on television, there’s always a bomb. but there’s a bigger bomb if you fire him. But Fauci’s a disaster.”
With minor edits, Trump in 2020 is belting out a sequel to his 2016 songs, hoping for a decisive surge that pushed him over into the White House four years ago.
“Nobody takes him seriously. They just have a good laugh and none of that stuff matters”, Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert and one of the first to predict a Trump landslide in 2016, said on NBC.
After blasting Dr. Anthony Fauci as a “disaster” and the scientific community as a bunch of “idiots”, Trump has turbocharged his grievances on social media framing Fauci as a “bad arm” at baseball, inserting memories of an awkward Dr. Fauci moment for American voters to chew on.
Even the Trump emails are looking like a 2016 reprise. One fundraiser subject line was “Lock her up,” and the White House is backing it up with email blasts like these: “Trump Is Strengthening Border Security, Keeping Violent Criminals and Illegal Drugs Out of US” and “New border wall nears 400 miles”.
By most accounts of White House chatter, the Trump campaign believes it has a narrow path to 270 Electoral College votes. At least one pollster – Trafalgar – puts Trump ahead of Biden in at least three of six battleground states most favoured to tip the election.
Trump is recycling old lines which turned out to be incredibly persuasive the first time around. The one thing that’s different this time is that Trump’s attacks on Fauci and the scientific community come at a time when COVID19 cases are rising in 37 of America’s 50 states and in Washington D.C. The US leads the world in coronavirus caseload and deaths.
Even if Trump throws the entire kitchen sink at his effort to distract from COVID-19, American voters, across a variety of touchpoints and political leaning, said that will be near impossible.
Not everybody is convinced, though. Those who understand the power of social media platforms through the lens of algorithms are a worried lot, considering the scale and reach of Big Tech at the time of the 2020 elections.
A 2018 paper published in ‘Science’ has shown that lies spread faster than the truth online. In the paper titled “The spread of true and false news online”, Deb Roy, Souroush Vosoughi and Sinan Aral investigated the diffusion of verified true and false news stories distributed on Twitter from 2006 to 2017. The data comprised 126,000 stories tweeted by three million people more than 4.5 million times.
The study found that “falsehood diffused significantly farther, faster, deeper, and more broadly than the truth in all categories of information, and the effects were more pronounced for false political news than for false news about terrorism, natural disasters, science, urban legends, or financial information”.
Twitter and YouTube have struggled with misinformation and hate speech but Facebook is in a league of its own for sheer scale.
In 2016, Russian agents and the now defunct Cambridge Analytica used the Facebook platform to manipulate and micro target undecided voters in the US presidential election.
Big Tech platforms are facing their toughest challenge yet in the 2020 election already complicated by the pandemic and conspiracy theories on public health issues and mail-in voting being spun straight from the most powerful office in the United States.