What We Learned from Trump about the Media and Ourselves

Trump ha goduto più di tutti della copertura dei media

Who more than Donald Trump can brag about winning the US presidential election? Breitbart News, the far-right American news site popular for its conspiracy stories, and intentionally misleading articles driven by xenophobic, racist, and misogynist ideologies. Steve Bannon, the director of Breitbart News, did an exemplary job during the electoral campaign: the voters contradicted the election forecast from the most prominent media sources.

Trump and Bannon are experts in mass media framework, and as unethical people as they are, used outrageous and disgraceful statements to guarantee an apex exposure on TV, newspapers, and websites: the more the Republican candidate uttered sexist, islamophobe, and xenophobe words, the more the journalists jumped on it to express their disdain, overlooking the echo chamber they were creating, and which expended through millions of social media re-postings. Trump’s tweets, memes, and articles have been shared for fun, contempt, and even fear. Essentially, Trump’s opposition gifted him even more with publicity.

Why all this activism against Trump didn’t squash him, but rather helped him to win the election? We don’t want to oversimplify because obviously the media echo chamber alone can’t explain the millionaire’s success – although it is hard to contradict Michael Moore statement: “He [Trump] is both a creature and a creation of the media and the media will never own that;” Facebook) – but we must admit that offering constant visibility to public figures ideas, and worldviews, simply reinforces them even when the intent is to portray them as negative.

Certainly the major American media outlets are partially responsible for the creation of the demon that is Trump, but let’s reflect on how the LGBTQIA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer, Intersex, Asexual) media have eased the success of homophobic celebrities and organizations, for example by publishing their remarks word for word, sometimes by bringing  forgotten names back into the public eye: like in the cases of Italian singer Povia and the unpopular politician Carlo Giovanardi, or the fully uncensored videos from Daesh (the terrorist organization also known as ISIS) in which alleged homosexuals are thrown from rooftops.

Some time ago, I’ve researched the visibility of an Italian fundamentalist Christian site, learning that about seventy percent of their coverage was through articles published by a well-known gay blog, and other LGBTQIA media. The remaining thirty percent was represented by fundamentalist organizations which were mostly writing in support of criticism from the gay organizations. In other words: a situational full circle, where the LGBTQIA media play an important role in terms of publicity. The mentioned fundamentalist Christian group would not be able to spread so wide their fake news about “gender theory.”

This is somehow an extreme case illustrating the simplest side of a bigger problem. The studies on the spreading of myth against vaccination show that constant and repetitive circulation of an idea increases the capacity of its diffusion and acceptance, even when it is meant to demonstrate its fabrication [The Conversation]. If we are continually subjected to an idea, the fine line between true and false, between possible and improbable will get blurry as our brain tends to conform to how familiar is the truth it’s hearing.

For example, I was trying to explain to someone how the article she posted about immigration was bogus. She confirmed the article was indeed made up: “But things like this could happen.” Practically, she was asserting that although there was no crime, there must always be a sentence of conviction. When facing the fine line between true and false, sometimes we surrender; we avoid answering the question “how is reality” because we don’t want to come face to face with the shaky answer. Instead, we leave space for: “how do I judge reality?””because we have much more control over the answer.

That interaction made me think of an article I wrote a few years back for Il Grande Colibrì: a satire piece on Sentinelle in piedi (Standing sentinels), which included fake statements from those Catholic fundamentalists, improbable and wacky stories. Despite its satirical nature and despite a footnote declared it was “a work of fiction,” that piece filled many people – including some LGBTQIA activists – with indignation, like it was a real story.

In the social media jungle, information, disinformation, and satire get mixed up in an ever more indistinguishable hodgepodge. Things get worse when we take a look at how established media works: internet success is valued upon the numbers of page visits, with a mechanic that rewards the ability to capture momentary attention, to trigger a gut reaction instead of feeding the brain. In such environment, it is not surprising to see derogatory and aggressive interactions used as effective promotional tools.

How can we resolve such a situation? The answer deserves a three-part explanation.

1. We should develop new ways to produce information, such to avert the dependence of the amount of gained clicks, a survival mode damaging the quality of information, and eventually the publishers themselves. The solution proposed by Il Grande Colibrì is based on a non-profit model, on volunteering works, and on a sustainability model with no ties to ads or clicks. But – it is undeniable – there are a few problematics, such as the underrated political role of the information in the LGBTQIA movement, and the lack of adequate resources.

2. Whoever produces content, from journalists to bloggers, too often uses shortcuts to elude their ethical responsibilities. The media covered Trump’s election campaign more for profit than for journalistic integrity  (according to The Washington Post the fiery campaign profited 1.67 billion dollars to Fox News, and hundreds of millions to other TV networks). The same is done by the LGBTQIA media: reporting homophobic statements by notable celebrities is not worthy information, but a way to accumulate money and power. Exploiting LGBTQIA indignation is providing publicity (therefore money and power) to the very hate speakers we are despising. We need to be more judicious with our reports on racism, sexism, and homophobia, and not taking advantage of them for our personal success.

3. Consumers and social media users should take up their own responsibilities. Despite the accusation moved toward Facebook and Twitter [Vanity Fair], it is up to each individual to make sure what is shared is reliable news, it is up to each one of us to reward quality news and to repeal mob mentality, it is up to each one of us to constrain the perpetual spreading of hate. The information we share are partially responsible for the evolution of the world we live in.


translation by Barbara Burgio
©2016 Il Grande Colibrì

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