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Why #NeverTrump Isn’t Working

In the days leading up to Super Tuesday, Republicans were out in full force on social media, doing everything in their power to stop Trump. Their slogan? #NeverTrump: an insignia on the end of almost every post, a battle cry to other voters to stop his rise in its tracks.

Never have hashtags had such a huge role to play in a presidential race. There’s the popular and catchy #feeltheBern, which has become a chant at Bernie Sanders rallies. There’s #CruzCrew, #StandwithRand, #TeamMarco, and others.

But this has also been a week of negative hashtags: most importantly, #NeverTrump. Following John Oliver’s incredibly popular Trump takedown [1] on Last Week Tonight, #MakeDonaldDrumpfAgain has also been immensely popular. Another I saw—presumably based on a Marco Rubio quote—was #FriendsDon’tLetFriendsVoteforConArtists. Long, yes. But effective? Most definitely. And perhaps most telling: practically everyone in my online friend group has been posting anti-Trump statuses, videos, memes, and articles over the past week. It’s as if they collectively realized that yes, indeed, he was succeeding in his run for president—and they wanted to exert whatever social pressure they could on their friends to prevent this from becoming reality. Thus—#FriendsDon’tLetFriendsVoteforConArtists.

That statement—and its online medium—is very important in 2016. It seems obvious that Facebook (and other social media) will be playing an ever greater part in our political discourse, and may have an increasingly civic role in the days to come. The past week has demonstrated that these platforms will not only urge people to vote, but will also pressure people to vote for a specific candidate.

Facebook’s increasing civic role could be a good thing—in communities where we no longer know our neighbors, we get less political and social input from our local arenas. When we walk (or drive) around our local communities, many of us do not run into familiar faces with the regularity that we used to; we’re less likely to talk politics with the people we see at local coffee shops or grocery stores. Facebook could fill that hole in an important way: by opening up a place for political discourse, in a country where we increasingly feel awkward doing it in the physical neighborhoods we inhabit. 

But it’s also true that Facebook (and other social media) could become a political bubble of peer pressure, in which we have a distorted sense of who we should vote for or how we should react to political events. The clamorous shouting of our friend groups—many of whom share political alliances and sentiments—could deafen us to the voice of reason, prudence, or caution. It could make us less sensitive to those who have differing opinions or views. 

There are two reasons this seems likely to happen: first, because we don’t know exactly how Facebook’s own algorithms could be influencing what we see and when? Is there a reason #NeverTrump was dominating my newsfeed this week? Was it as popular a movement as I thought it was—or did Facebook already know that I was not a Trump voter, and thus began feeding me the content it associated with my political inclinations? Could it be that pro-Trump people saw less—or even no—#NeverTrump content? Facebook has been known in the past to skew its newsfeed items toward the positive [2]. And it uses a “rich get richer”-style algorithm [3] to determine what ends up in your feed. This would mean that, if you don’t like Trump, the #NeverTrump content would bolster your mood, spread through your friend base, and dominate your news feed. If you were a fan of Trump, you would be less likely to see such posts—partly because your friend base was likely more pro-Trump, but also because the negative nature of the posts would be less suited to a “happy” newsfeed.

As one person put it, it would be interesting to see a Venn diagram of how Trump support overlapped in our friend groups. Because if my Facebook friends’ statements were any indication, Trump should have suffered a serious blow on Tuesday night. Yet as results poured in, he continued to stand as the frontrunner. So something—whether it was algorithms or friend circles, indignation or stubbornness—prevented my friends from reaching the voters they meant to reach. Based on the results of Super Tuesday, the voters #NeverTrump posts were meant to reach were either offended by them and voted for him anyway, or didn’t see them much or at all.


And that has very interesting implications going forward: it seems to indicate that certain voter cliques could whip each other into a frenzy, while others could foment their own sentiments and interests, without any real transformation or change happening. This could result in less and less understanding, but rather in increasing levels of anger and disgust. Whereas standing outside your local voting place with a “Don’t vote for Trump” sign would definitely result in an opportunity to reach some with differing opinions, it would appear that doing so on Facebook will only have a limited effect.

21 Comments (Open | Close)

21 Comments To "Why #NeverTrump Isn’t Working"

#1 Comment By Kurt Gayle On March 2, 2016 @ 11:22 am

Thanks for this, Gracy. You make some interesting points about the effects of social media.

But for those of us who are Trump supporters this whole thing is more straightforward. It’s about hard economic issues — jobs and income — policies that have stolen good jobs from millions of Americans and suppressed wage levels. And it’s about not wanting any more disastrous Middle East wars.

Ultimately, it’s about class. Those of us in Middle America — and working class Americans of all races, and both genders — will continue to support Trump because we see that the things that he says he will do are in our interest.

Nothing against you, Gracy, but you and your friends will vote your interests — and we will vote ours.

#2 Comment By Fran Macadam On March 2, 2016 @ 11:29 am

I think that the social media campaign was somewhat successful in blunting the results for Trump, in which the polls had predicted better results for him than were achieved before this massive campaign, much of it propagandistic rather than substantive.

There is nothing illegal about companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google slanting their algorithms and using targeting of results to achieve social control aims. It is what makes them worth potentially so much more than any media heretofore existing. The companies have been known to practice tests of how effective such hidden persuasion can be on both mood and opinion and the results have been more than encouraging. What appears to be a grassroots phenomenon can be manufactured, and there are no laws governing it, nor are the secret algorithms that can produce it disclosed.

Google itself is a company with very close ties to Hillary Clinton, with prominent company officials involved. In her campaign, a veritable revolving door at high levels. In the recent past a revolving door between her State Department and Google’s executive management was especially pronounced, and Google was involved in skewing their results to favor regime change operations in the Mideast.

The bottom line is, can these companies control the slant of what millions see, as the new gatekeepers? Yes they can. Have they already done it? Yes they have. How are they doing it now, when there is no governing law? They aren’t disclosing that publicly, but some insiders say it is definitely being used for partisan purpose, and it would be very surprising if it weren’t.

#3 Comment By Kent On March 2, 2016 @ 11:47 am

I don’t see why it’s in anyone’s interest to vote for a con artist.

#4 Comment By Fred Bowman On March 2, 2016 @ 11:47 am

In many ways Facebook and other social media sites are just bumper stickers. Not a lot of depth (if any) in most of them.

#5 Comment By ojc On March 2, 2016 @ 1:28 pm

Gracy, I am a Millenial and a former resident of Northern Virginia, just like you, and I saw the same phenomenon on Facebook. Supporting Trump in our social class (conservative yuppies) is anathema, even for people who are themselves struggling financially. I think that there is a Bradley Effect in play however. The only people that openly endorse Trump on that platform are middle-aged or older, but based on personal conversations that I have had, plenty of younger people feel the pull of Trump’s message.

The problem with our yuppy friends is that they are simply much more ideological than the average American. Where they see hypocrisy and contradiction, other Americans see resolve. Articles detailing how unconservative and unelectable Trump is will have no effect on those who just aren’t very ideological.

I think that Trump is simply a master triangulator that has used the conservative movement’s weaknesses against itself. Trump alternates between the braggadacio and obstructionism of talk radio, the mindless nationalism of GOP foreign policy, and the class resentments openly stoked by many conservatives to carve out a new plurality. Whether he really believes any of it is an open question and increasingly irrelevant. Timothy Carney recently recently suggested that we may be entering a new era of less ideological politics. It is a shame that Trump is the instrument of this change, but maybe it is the wake-up call for our political class to address the issues intelligently instead of spouting abstractions.

#6 Comment By brian On March 2, 2016 @ 2:00 pm

Interesting thoughts. In effect, rather than promoting a potentially global dialogue of varying perspectives, one is insulated in virtual enclaves where each community promotes a confirmation bias.

I have yet to hear a coherent strategy of any length or specificity from Trump, btw. He has mastered the performance of a stage character that allows people to vicariously enjoy his unrestrained contempt for certain elites and for all individuals who question his integrity or actual competency. His nativist populism speaks to people’s anxiety, suffering, and legitimate sense of exclusion. Yet I discern a thuggish narcissist with Mussolini’s penchant for comedy. The people loved the latter — until they hanged him.

#7 Comment By Michael On March 2, 2016 @ 2:07 pm

I think what you point out about algorithms spell out exactly why it’s dreadful to think that the future of our political discourse will be centered in social media. We all to easily forget (because it’s all to well hidden) that we are not interacting with people in social media. We are primarily interacting with machines. First, we only see what the algorithm feeds us (and how many billions of interests are vested in skewing those algorithms to herd us one way or another). Second, we only see pixels on a screen, which has been known to subdue our empathy and bring out a harsh, vitriolic style of conversation that surely will never convince anyone of anything. Political discourse in this environment of intentional obfuscation and de-humanized conversation sounds like pure dystopia.

I think that the political candidate that has the best future (and Trump seems to be this guy right now) won’t be the one who learns how to best mobilize social media followers, but the one who best exploits these limits of social media by inoculating his/her followers to hashtag campaigns with direct pander.

#8 Comment By Kevin On March 2, 2016 @ 2:12 pm

Instead of just attacking Trump…maybe other republican candidates could try addressing the issues that concern his constituents – rather than just personal attacks. Maybe they are doing that and I missed it. But the Facebook stuff is just becoming like white noise. I don’t even see it anymore from left or right. Its over-kill and kind of back fires I think. I wonder if its all just preaching to the choir and not really reaching the intended audience – the article seems to suggest that.

#9 Comment By MarkW On March 2, 2016 @ 3:12 pm

Oh No! One of the politicians and non-politicians running for president is a con artist?

#10 Comment By Dakarian On March 2, 2016 @ 3:15 pm

“Was it as popular a movement as I thought it was—or did Facebook already know that I was not a Trump voter, and thus began feeding me the content it associated with my political inclinations? Could it be that pro-Trump people saw less—or even no—#NeverTrump content? ”

More than that. As someone who’s MORE than used to internet arguments, it’s all one big set of echo chambers. It’s people yelling at each other across the room with no intention of listening.

That is, the only people who will pay attention to #NeverTrump already are anti-Trump. You aren’t going to convince anyone who currently supports him or are on the fence of nothing else, especially since it doensn’t ‘say’ anything.

So for getting new voters, it’s not that useful. The questionjust comes down to whether it’s good to rally folks to go vote.

For that.. I don’t know. A lot of people who go far enough to get into big internet debates about Trump are going to go vote. Will it reach the folks who think the same but aern’t as engaged or else feel discouraged? Would a person see #NEverTrump an go “Hmm, yo uknow I should vote to keep him out?

That Im not sure. I DO know that backlashes do happen. If a Trump supporter sees #neverTrump, they ARE going to get riled up and post, and fuss, and vote. While we talk about how powerful trolls are in using one post to get 10-40 people to scream against them, it also works for legitimate but anger inducing posts.

So it may be better to focus more on positive messages that rile up your side into voting without riling up the opposition into countervoting.

Besides, part of the reason why Trump is the only name mentions so often is though articles that start with “Why we hate..” Negative publicity is still publicity.

#11 Comment By Clint On March 2, 2016 @ 7:05 pm

Trump way ahead of “Little Marco” and the “Never Trump” Smear Artists.

“You can’t con people, at least not for long. You can create excitement, you can do wonderful promotion and get all kinds of press, and you can throw in a little hyperbole. But if you don’t deliver the goods, people will eventually catch on.”

#12 Comment By Eric On March 2, 2016 @ 10:49 pm

The issue that we’re going to have in the near future is digital censorship and shadowbanning (where it looks like your post is made, but nobody else can find it or see it). Twitter is teaming up with a bunch of anti-white leftist organizations demonizing anybody who doesn’t toe the line on their broad definition of “hate speech.”

How can the right-wing European parties or pro-Trump voices be heard when they’re being shut out of public platforms? Maybe they should seek out other avenues, but the whole utility of Facebook and Twitter is derived from the fact that everyone else is on them.

And I also agree with what was said above, that although this digital censorship is stifling, most of Twitter and Facebook is used for “social signaling” (“look how intelligent and moral I am!”). So the shadowbanning and the censorship doesn’t affect the arguments so much as it affects perceptions. I don’t think humans are primarily rational beings. A tool like social media will be used for purposes of social conditioning. Everything that gets trending on Twitter has some headline with a Republican candidate and caption that reads, “Candidate Y said X.” And of course, that statement is so obviously self-refuting, don’t you know!

Millenials are brainwashed.

#13 Comment By Laurelhurst On March 2, 2016 @ 10:49 pm

I have friends in my feed threatening to unfriend anyone who says anything nice about Trump. He’s pretty polarizing!

#14 Comment By AndyG On March 2, 2016 @ 11:53 pm

Honestly, people, time to apply a bit of adult awareness to this.
Trump is a deal maker, and he’s intent on one thing- closing a deal.
You would like to see him as someone who will part the Red Sea and give you everything you wish for, and that is a sign of immaturity.
Has he delivered ANYTHING yet? No- he doesn’t have a coherent policy on anything, because all he wants is to win, not to govern.

#15 Comment By rosita On March 3, 2016 @ 1:53 am

It’s pretty obvious that 25-35% of Republicans will not vote for Trump. He will lose. The Super Tuesday results pretty much confirmed what many people have been saying already…Trump’s ceiling of support within the Republican party is 40%…..he could not crack that anywhere on Super Tuesday. In a pivotal purple state like Virginia, that he won, 56% of voters there said they would be dissatisfied if he was the nominee….I presume the same 56% that voted for other candidates in the primary. Rasmussen Reports National poll shows Trump nationwide at between 35-38% support, they say he has not budged at all in their polling since late October. I am willing to wager that he is able to consolidate a further 10% of support and gets to a 45% of the total electorate. That is his ceiling especially because 25-35% of Republicans and republican leaning voters will sit this election out or vote third party. He is a very weak major party nominee and it is extremely hard to win a national election when a third to a half of your own party will mobilize actively against you.

#16 Comment By Alex On March 3, 2016 @ 1:59 am

Welcome to the real world. Internet is good for fast delivering of information indeed. Sometimes it’s good for afterwork jabber as well. But shaping people’s minds against the reality, especially a harsh one? Come on. Social networks are nothing but a husk. That wither and are gone with the same wind they were blown by. Likely in a decade. And good riddance. Perhaps our grandchildren grow normal, if our children haven’t.

#17 Comment By Charles Cosimano On March 3, 2016 @ 3:43 am

Social media is utterly irrelevant. It is the same as three shipwrecked lawyers getting rich by suing each other. It has not changed a single vote, nor will it. All it does is reinforce the opionions of the people who read what they agree with while totally ignoring everyone they disagree with.

I saw a genuine Trump follower last week staring at him on the television in a local restaurant as though God had descended and was speaking to the masses. No nonsense on Twitter is going to influence his vote. He is impenetrible.

This whole thing will probably end up as a mass imitation of Pauline Kael in 1972 saying, “I can’t understand how Nixon won. None of my friends voted for him,” and the hashtag hookers will then run off tilting at another windmill, which will ignore them like all the others did.

#18 Comment By Fran Macadam On March 3, 2016 @ 4:39 am

“It’s pretty obvious that 25-35% of Republicans will not vote for Trump.”

He might not need those, depending on how many won’t vote for the Democratic establishment candidate, either, rather than Sanders.

How many voters, party members or no, are deeply dissatisfied with either duopoly party’s donorist establishment candidates?

#19 Comment By Jonathan On March 3, 2016 @ 9:28 am

If all it does is signal and solidify resolve against Trump among like minded people who may otherwise feel isolated, I’d say it’s working.

#20 Comment By William Dalebout On March 3, 2016 @ 2:37 pm

The liberals unfriendly all their trump supporter friends very early on. I never saw a thing.

#21 Comment By Andrew G Van Sant On March 4, 2016 @ 12:56 am

Why would anyone post anything on Facebook? The only reason to have a Facebook account is for entertainment, to see the rediculous things other people post. Trump will perform a great service if he can destroy the Republican party, which has done nothing beneficial for the average American. Then we can work to destroy the Democrats who are worse than the Republicans.