When hurricane Maria loomed as a messaging disaster for Trump, he was able to use the media to change the subject. It’s what he’s best at. He’s got a standard m.o. for doing this. Think of the Khan family at the Democratic convention, Jemele Hill and so many others. His attacks offend us to the core and we scramble to adequately respond. But we have spent nearly a year with him in the White House and we are painfully learning how not to get played.
As social media consumers we have the ability to lift up stories that matter and find leaders to give us effective responses. Thinking clearly about our options can help us keep our eyes on the news that matters at this crucial time in the nation’s history. We are living through a toxic growth spurt in new media formats that brings with it risks to personal well being and indeed to our very democracy. It is our responsibility to learn how to sustain our sanity through this and use the social media channels to manage the media our way. This article lays out ideas for keeping on message – our message – so we continue to make a difference for the resistance.
So 3.2 million citizens in Puerto Rico were without power, communications, food and water and Trump was being called upon to do what he is worst at – showing sympathy, caring and leadership. He can’t muster that for his own Cabinet members and certainly was absolutely incapable of it for Spanish-speaking Puerto Ricans.
So he used twitter to attack some people. Of course he did. And the week that political writers were calling the worst of his presidency became the week that every single one of us talked exclusively about NFL players kneeling for the national anthem. Republicans were trying to demolish our healthcare system, Trump threatened to attack North Korea, and Robert Mueller’s investigation into Trump’s campaign and administration deepened dramatically. But he got five straight days of his base loving him and all of us talking about the NFL protests. For him it was an unequivocal win.
We had a lot to say about the NFL protests. Some of it came out beautifully. But we almost exclusively said it to each other. Trump supporters have their own media ecosystems where they sold t-shirts about how they wouldn’t kneel, and we loudly proclaimed about the right to protest and how players were protesting racism, not the anthem. It gave each side lots of cause for indignation, but changed exactly nothing.
If we are honest with ourselves, the topic was easier to engage with than everything else going on. All I can think to say about nuclear war with North Korea is… please don’t do it. The calls to beg Senators not to rip health insurance from vulnerable Americans were creepy. And it takes serious stamina to keep asking people to focus on the Russia investigation which is so excruciatingly wrapped in secrecy.
He gave us all an easy way out and we took it. We’ve got to think hard about how to stick to our jobs of effectively resisting the dismantling of protections for low income people, women, immigrants, the environment and everyone else this guy hates.
The follow five strategies are suggestions are for individuals and for the resistance as a movement.
1 Be More Clear About What Is Happening
As a movement we need to be less easily shocked and better at labeling Trump’s tactics now that we have experience with them. As an individual I would like to respond with: “The President attacked another person/people (most likely of color) today. The target of his attacks were xxxx doing xxxx, and I stand with them. Let’s talk about why the President needed a media diversion today… When we let ourselves get upset by what he’s doing and respond in anger, he’s winning.
2 We Protect Each Other
Do make clear you support the target of his attack, like the NFL players who kneel during the anthem. But we need leadership to craft effective responses. There needs to be an actual group that will focus on defending people personally attacked by the President, whoever it is. Their mission would be to put together response messages and response campaigns for people to engage with easily. This outfit could be a small non-profit, or more likely it needs to be a volunteer working group that professionals from the big advocacy groups would collaborate on when they are able.
When an issue related to a particular group emerges, advocacy groups have staff that come up with language based on previous research and identify what messages need to go where, from where, for a desired outcome. In the case of the NFL players it might have been letters to NFL coaches speaking up in support of the players, or an ad created for a major sports broadcast. But when no group is coordinating a response we all have to jump into the void, wasting tons of time, accomplishing nothing and distracting us from other work.
3 A ‘Top Story’ Story Check In on Facebook
We ought to be able to succinctly indicate what the biggest news story is on a given day. It should be an option on Facebook alongside the “Feeling:”, “Reading:” or “Watching:” It would say, Top Story: And you could write in “Threat of Nuclear War with N. Korea” “Russian hacking of Voting Machines”. So even if you do have to write something about why protesting during the anthem is not the same thing as protesting the anthem, you can show you what news matters the most that day. Sharing articles online ranks them automatically, so our millions of shares of outrage stories automatically downgraded stories about healthcare, the Russia/Trump investigation and North Korea. We can choose to share strategically and a ‘Top Story’ listing could help.
4 A Scoreboard for Russian & Trump Disinformation Campaigns
We need a central depot online that will identify news threads coming from sources that promote disinformation campaigns. I want someone to post a sort of war room scoreboard saying, here are the three top stories being pushed by Russian bots, Trump and right wingers generally today. It could have the option of an accompanying analysis piece, but please no clickbait. Just a score board. I would repost this daily during diversion campaigns like the NFL player attacks to help reframe the ‘issues’ that Trump uses as media bait.
There is an excellent website run by a board with high-level national security pros from both the Bush (43) and Obama administrations that tracks Russian government-related propaganda activity. While it’s a remarkable resource, it only tracks Russian propaganda. That’s incredibly important, but doesn’t include Trump’s own distraction campaigns. This group, called the Alliance for Securing Democracy, needs to provide a gutsier distillation of what their information means for each day’s news or another group out there needs to work with the massive raw data they provide to narrow things down for pro-democracy and resistance activists to use online.
People’s social media networks need to be used to reframe the day’s news every day, identifying what Trump’s latest gambit is, and making clear that we are going to keep our eyes on the stories that matter.
5 Get Off of Facebook
Social media is enormously interesting, powerful and useful for certain tasks, but it allows our thoughts and emotions to be guided by corporate algorithms that serve Facebook or whoever has paid them enough money to command our attention. Despite being given access to such a mass of ‘news’ information and analysis via social media, we are more and more passively accepting the news stream they give us. Trump is the master player in our current social media environment. I believe that for us, the only way to win to not to play.
Use social media very carefully and with clear idea of what you are trying to achieve. This is way easier said than done and will be fodder for my next Resistancemom post, so stay tuned!