There’s little question this election season will rank among the most divisive in our history. The seemingly irreconcilable differences between the populists and conservatives who backed Donald Trump and the liberals and bohemians who either supported or held their noses to vote for Joe Biden have qualified this as perhaps the most bitter balloting since 1860 – and we all know what happened after that one.
I would also submit to you that the amount of yellow journalism in this election was comparable to those long-ago races where partisan newspapers were unafraid to make up or amplify rumors about the opponents of their favored candidates. After all, we went through three-plus years of a trumped-up (pun intended) media-driven impeachment while those same organs basically ignored a potential blackmail scandal affecting Joe Biden and his son Hunter that erupted just three weeks before the election. Maybe they “learned” their lesson from the Hillary Clinton e-mail scandal that came to a crescendo just days before the election in 2016 and perhaps cost her an election that the media assured us was in the bag for her.
The biggest differences, however, between the modern day campaign and those elections of long ago are the speed of communication and lifestyle. In Lincoln’s day, the telegraph was in its early stages of development and news more often came from local newspapers. It may have taken a week for some to find out who won the election, and that’s if they purchased a copy of the local newspaper. While the newspaper industry of 1860 may have pitted rival against rival because they preferred different papers that backed opposing politicians, the news didn’t dominate the lives of common folk who were more interested in working for their survival as farmers or laborers or headed a household full of children to raise. It was truly the 1% who had enough leisure time to debate the political.
Now we have 24/7 cable news, but more importantly we have social media as a means of information and communication – and the reason we have social media is because we have evolved our lifestyles to a point where even those on the lowest rungs of the economic ladder have time to follow the news or at least keep up with the culture. No longer are religion and politics taboo subjects for discussion; in fact, having no political opinion makes you the outlier. Either you’re on the red team or the blue team these days. (By not voting or voting third party, in the eye of the beholder you are the opposition.)
So if you’ll pardon the long introduction, my point is that, over the last month or so, we have seen a breakup that follows the political in the arena of social media, one which has accelerated since the election and grown to include the modern-day equivalent of the local newspaper.
I had never heard of Parler before this summer, but back in June there was an early move toward the social network based on issues with Twitter, for which Parler is considered the closest cousin. I jumped onto Parler on June 22, but to be honest I use it much the same way I use Facebook except I don’t post as much. (Part of this was that I never cared for Twitter.) Since the runup to the election with its constant reminders to go vote and the so-called “fact checking” exceedingly applied to conservative viewpoints – while liberals are unquestionably taken at face value – the growth of Parler has been exponential.
Joining Parler on the growth list are a couple of news channels. All summer there were rumblings among the conservative set that “fair and balanced” Fox News was no longer as fair or balanced. These rumblings grew louder with Chris Wallace’s hard-hitting interview of President Trump in July and his widely panned mishandling of moderator duties during the first Presidential debate. Strike three, however, was Fox News’s willingness on election night to call Arizona quickly for Joe Biden while slow-walking calls on states Trump eventually won handily, such as Florida.
Since the election, thousands of Trump supporters have vowed to stop watching Fox (even if it’s only the programming outside popular shows they still have featuring Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham, and Sean Hannity) and they’re flocking to upstarts One America News and NewsMax TV, which have featured a more pro-Trump viewpoint. (It’s not that much of an achievement, considering the 90-plus percent negative coverage Trump receives from the legacy media.)
The problem for Fox News, of course, is a little like the issue faced by the anti-Trump Republicans in the Lincoln Project. Now that they are useless to the Democrats because the election is over, they’re going to find they have no friends on either side. The Republicans now see them as disloyal and the Democrats will simply call them useful idiots who outlived their usefulness. I don’t expect any mass exodus from CNN or MSNBC to a more “woke” Fox News. Why go for the imitation when you have the real thing?
The $64,000 question then is whether these splits become permanent or not. There are many skeptics who laugh at those leaving Facebook and Twitter, saying either that they will be back after their tantrum is up or that they won’t be missed anyway because they’re uninformed hicks. (I see that out of a lot of #NeverTrumps that I know.) And while there are many thousands who vow to dump Fox News, we haven’t seen the ratings for OANN or NewsMax TV to know if this is a new habit.
One thing that worries me about this trend is the potential for slipping into an information silo, although it certainly could be argued that those who rely solely on the traditional media outlets (as the social media outlets Facebook and Twitter do) are already trapped in one that reflects a left-wing, pro-Democrat viewpoint. Too many people are letting those outlets do their thinking for them, and it’s to the detriment of our republic that they cede that right.
As for me, I’ll try and do a little more on Parler and perhaps join MeWe, but for the immediate future I’ll also stay on Facebook until my friends and family abandon it. I also have a couple pages I curate there so there’s that factor, too. Guess I will be living in two worlds for the time being.