A few things I learned about the media (and social media) from the US elections

Traditional print media has begun losing prominence and social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter have become the new purveyors of news.

Written by Radhika Iyengar | Updated: November 16, 2016 10:37 am
trump, trump news, trump president, world news, indian express, U.S. President-elect Donald Trump arrives to speak at his election night rally in Manhattan, New York, U.S., November 9, 2016. (Source: File/REUTERS)

Over the last few years, there has been a dramatic shift in the way we consume news. Traditional print media has begun losing prominence and social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter have become the new purveyors of news. These media platforms have a strong reach and far greater impact than any legacy media. However, with the transition, there have been pitfalls. The US Elections magnified these pitfalls, highlighting how skewed Donald Trump’s coverage was in the media – how he, his ludicrous statements and antics largely drove the narrative of the elections.

Here are some of the things I learned from what happened there:


Post Trump’s victory, a lot of people sat down to chart out how exactly the “bigoted, racist womaniser” was elected President. Many have directed the blame on Facebook. The social media platform received considerable flak for being one of the chief platforms for circulating unfiltered, unchecked and unbridled ‘fake news’ associated with Donald Trump that principally celebrated him. Many pointed fingers at Zuckerberg, holding Facebook responsible for allowing unauthentic news to exist on its newsfeed and not stalling the snowball effect of pro-Trump shares.

While Zuckerberg called the blame-game a ‘crazy’ idea, last week Emily Bell wrote a scathing piece in Columbia Journalism Review asserting that “Facebook could no longer be the ‘I didn’t do it boy of global media’” and listed exactly how Facebook had a major role to play in the elections. In addition, Buzzfeed did an in-depth investigation and named a number of pro-Trump pages like Occupy Democrats, The Angry Patriot, RightAlerts etc., that existed solely on facebook. These pages that posed as ‘news outlets’ were responsible for generating pro-Trump fake news and had thousands of followers.

While Facebook claims to be a neutral party that has no control over what people read/watch/share, it has to admit that it is a major media company. The stories it publishes sculpt dominant collective thought. Facebook cannot hide behind the explanation that stories that are “fed” to people on”news feed” are based on algorithms, which in turn are generated according to the material users read or watch. If Facebook could introduce anti-clickbait algorithms, which could detect stories that were over-exaggerated or highly erroneous, it definitely could roll out algorithms which could detect fake news. Facebook does have control over its algorithms. It’s the hand that rocks the cradle.


In The New York Times, Nicholas Kristof wrote, “…the media screwed up. Our first big failing was that television in particular handed Trump the microphone without adequately fact-checking him or rigorously examining his background, in a craven symbiosis that boosted audiences for both.” This view is in tandem with Obama who pointed out that the media was responsible for giving Trump free exposure (according to The Upshot, “$2 billion worth of free media”).

Trump knew exactly how to draw in the media – he hurled highly eccentric, obnoxious statements – and the media had hit a goldmine. For a considerable portion of the elections, Trump dominated mainstream media and therefore, mainstream conversations. In fact, I recall receiving weekly curated newsletters from a prominent, respected American publication where most of the featured stories were on Trump. In 1987, Trump wrote in his book The Art of the Deal, “If you are a little different, or a little outrageous, or if you do things that are bold or controversial, the press is going to write about you.”

And that’s exactly what happened. It created Trump as a larger-than-life political phenomenon which helped his campaign gain tremendous momentum.


In a hit-and-miss media age where there is a deluge of information that is unchecked and unaccounted for, people are consuming everything that is thrown their way. We exist in an I-knew-before-you-did social media system, where there is an urgency to share stories—inextricably lined to the varying levels of how ridiculous, game-changing and unbelievable they are. It’s not that people don’t have to time to simply Google and fact-check before sharing it, but that they are – a) driven by an urge to be the first to share a “shocking” story, b) are too lazy to fact check, because it’s easier to press the share button rather than keying in questions in the search bar that begin with, “Is it true that…”

Undoubtedly, the unmatched, unfiltered push Trump has received from the media has an important factor to play in his rise. Interestingly, media (of which even I hold myself responsible) continues to publish posts and stories about him. It’s his entertaining, offensive, establishment-defying antics that challenge the otherwise ‘normalised’ veneer of political correctness that draws us to him. In fact, even after he has won the elections, the world is still talking about him. Hillary Clinton, who in comparison to Trump hardly received any coverage during the election campaign, has voluntarily slid into the shadows. Hardly anyone is speaking about her. In fact, Bernie Sanders is getting more social media traction that Clinton.

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First Published on: November 16, 2016 8:51 am
  1. B
    Nov 16, 2016 at 7:47 am
    The left leaning journos thought that they were the opinion makers and can decide the fate of nations but sadly for them people have started expressing their views on the open social media
    1. C
      Nov 16, 2016 at 6:10 am
      What happened to freedom of expression ?? Suddenly this author is talking about checks
      1. R
        Raju Sri
        Nov 16, 2016 at 7:20 am
        The thick and the poorly educated talking about "Freedom of expression" in regards to the article pointing out how fake news was used to boost Trump in the presidential campaign. That's hilarious.
        1. A
          Nov 16, 2016 at 5:30 am
          To be first to break the breaking news, journos also do not check facts before they put it on their news channels like our Delhi CM who keeps talking without thinking.
          1. C
            Chetan More
            Nov 16, 2016 at 6:51 am
            He is reflection of american society. The society has unconsciously selected it's natural choice.
            1. A
              A villager
              Nov 16, 2016 at 5:41 am
              As Modi said they all are news traders.
              1. T
                Nov 16, 2016 at 11:21 am
                The author writes as if Trump own because of the media. In fact it is the other way round. He won inspite of them. The media coverage was high, but 95% negative.He fought both the democrate and republican supported media. The american disbelive the media to an extent of 7 out of 10). The result is a backlash of white unemplo youth against a political system which is corrupt to the core, compromising to the base level , full of power brokers and a candidate who was broke in 1998 and multibilliaire at present. I am a liberal but not biased like the author. Let her factcheck both candidates. It is a verdict against Hillary.
                1. C
                  Nov 16, 2016 at 11:49 am
                  Essentially. And then consider that the comment sections upon every article are themselves sanctioned by the press, unmoderated or not.
                  1. G
                    giri nambally
                    Nov 16, 2016 at 12:09 pm
                    you need to learn many things in life,for a start,dont take readers for granted for they do work their brain.now as far as the result is concerned,i would say,there is no point in crying over the spilt milk.people do read for and against and have decide one way or the other and have chosen DT,so now whats the problem??give him breathing space,am sure he will be okay after all he is not ordinary american but DT.stay with him now.not that i dislike Hillary.
                    1. A
                      Nov 16, 2016 at 9:24 am
                      Your article sucks man. If you have your way, you will ban facebook because you say Trump won because of FB.lt;br/gt;Try some other joke on some other people.
                      1. S
                        Nov 16, 2016 at 3:40 am
                        When it comes to fact checking, legacy media is no better. Especially coverage of political persona and celebrities is mostly rumour and hardly backed by good reserch
                        1. V
                          Nov 16, 2016 at 6:31 am
                          Next comes intolerance and award wapsi gang of pseudo intellectuals backed by media syndicate
                          1. V
                            Nov 16, 2016 at 6:50 am
                            This secular media twists stories to their taste as this article shows, whenever anywhere the rightwing or right oriented leader is elected, now they conveniently ignore about freedom of press, if for them it is blood other it is tomoto sauce. good luck secular media
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