By Nikhila Natarajan
New York, Oct 22 (IANS) US president Donald Trump has one final ask from America. Imagine that America’s catastrophic coronavirus response isn’t real, imagine that masks don’t work and let’s all see how that balloon flies on the world’s digital persuasion machines. “Its just a retweet”, in the language of Trump, is built around the idea of population scale behaviour change at low cost. People can figure on the go where they stand on conspiracy theories just because something has been flung out there. That free speech excuse has long been central to the Trumpian re-election run. If we go beyond the rudimentary fact checks and try connecting the dots between America’s virus caseload, Trump’s claims and the tightening poll numbers, the rough edges of a shape begin to form. It suggests that Trump’s final ask from Americans is a request for virality on Big Tech platforms, nothing less.
None of this is novel, it’s the same old playlist from Trump’s greatest hits of 2016, but it merits mention for three reasons: The timing, the sameness and the likely political effects, which we’ll know sometime after November 3. Four years ago, Cambridge Analytica weaponised behavioural targeting and upended the election. That firm is defunct now but the tools of behavioral targeting are alive and well, and available for anyone to wield. The more fantastic the claim, the better it travels online, the results of a decade long study, published in ‘Science’, have shown.
Trump’s campaign has seized on a dubiously sourced tabloid story offering strange twists to a familiar attack plan: Joe Biden’s relationship with Ukraine. When Twitter banned, and then allowed, links to this article about Joe Biden’s son Hunter, its stated intention of plugging harmful content was turned on its head. The platform managed to succeed in doing the exact opposite thing, triggering the so-called Streisand Effect, which turns a sketchy piece of content into a blockbuster. Shares of the Post article “nearly doubled” after Twitter started suppressing it, according to a despatch from MIT Tech Review.
Presidential politics moves fast. Trump is now hopping from one must-win state to the next, pushing for a final surge ahead of the election, exactly two weeks out. Here are 3 moments from the final bend of Trump’s re-election campaign which show how the Trumpism, the polls and the virus are moving in the same moment.
On October 20, 2020, Trump said “I think I’m running angry. I’m running happy and I’m running very content ’cause I’ve done a great job.” He jumped on the Hunter Biden “laptop from hell.” He flung red meat. “Even if he didn’t get all of this money, you can’t go to China and have the son walk out with $1.5 billion. … You can’t go to Ukraine with $83,000 a month. … You can’t get $3.5 million from the mayor of Moscow’s wife.” Trump’s battleground average was 45.3 %, up from from 45.1 %. The virus: New cases 58,387, total cases 8.3 million
On October 19, 2020, Trump said about America’s most respected infectious diseases expert, Anthony Fauci: “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. We’re in the best shape we’ve ever been.”
Trump followed that up by saying people have had enough of COVID news. “People are tired of hearing Fauci and all these idiots… Fauci’s a nice guy, he’s been here for 500 years.” Trump’s battleground average was at 45.1 %, up from 45.0 %. The virus: New cases 48,210, total cases 8.15 million
On October 16, 2020, Trump said, incorrectly quoting a medical study: “Just the other day they came out with a statement that 85% of the people that wear masks catch it.” Trump’s battleground average was at 44.8%, up from 44.6%. The virus: New cases 63,610, Total cases 7.98 million
We don’t know how this ends, but we do know Trumpism’s final pitch: Suspend disbelief.