My post Friday on Donald Trump’s new site and sort-of social network struck some nerves. One commenter said “As a social commentator, you cover for tyranny.” That seemed a little nasty.
Two things are true. First, I am anti-Trump. I did a whole series of posts about it before the election. I’m not trying to hide my point of view.
And second, aside from that series, I have attempted to focus my political writing on facts and analysis without excessive bias. Conservatives and rational Trump supporters should be able to read my posts, understand them, and engage with them without feeling like they are being attacked or called names. There’s generally no point in partisan shouting — the people who agree with you learn nothing, and those who disagree just shout back.
So I took a close look at what I wrote to answer the question: were these facts and unbiased analysis, or is it partisan shouting?
I’d urge anyone writing about politics to do this sort of self-analysis from time to time, as way to check whether you’re adding to the rational thought in the world or just preaching to the choir.
Deconstructing Friday’s post for bias
Start with the title.
Why Donald Trump’s “social network” is smarter than it looks
Is this biased? First off, as I describe in the text of the post, “social network” is inaccurate. So putting it in quotes is appropriate.
Does his site look smart? No, it looks like a bunch of tweets.
Is it smarter than it looks? As I argue in the post, yes.
Now let’s look at some statements in the post and analyze them for bias:
- For months, we’ve heard the rumor that ex-President Trump was starting a social network. It’s up now. It’s called “From the Desk of Donald J. Trump.” Facts.
- As a social network, it sucks. This isn’t a critique of the site. It’s a critique of the site as a social network. And as a social network, it’s objectively lame, since it has no visible social interaction.
- But as a functional equivalent to Trump’s former Twitter account, it’s likely to succeed. A prediction. Doesn’t denigrate Trump.
- How Trump’s new megaphone works. I think it’s fair to call it a megaphone. It’s a site where he goes to be heard by many people.
- The rules for “From the Desk of Donald J. Trump.” This is a list of facts about the site, described objectively.
- To state the obvious, this is not a social network. Comparing it to a social network is like comparing a handcart to a Tesla Roadster. It’s missing the crucial element: people. A site without people’s visible participation is not social media. This is valid analysis. While the handcart/Tesla comparison looks like I’m dumping on it, that’s only in the context of whether it is a social network.
- Articles have described “From the Desk of Donald J. Trump” as a blog. That’s too generous. Proper blogs allow comments. Trump’s site doesn’t. It’s not a blog, it’s a series of bleats. My opinion of what a proper blog is comes from years of analysis of social media. On the other hand, calling Trump’s posts “bleats” does demonstrate bias — it is an opinion.
- Social networks, like all communities, cannot thrive under strict control. And this one is under about as strict control as you can get. Backed-up analysis, followed by a fact.
- “From the Desk of Donald J Trump” will serve Trump’s purpose well. A prediction. Doesn’t denigrate Trump.
- Trump used Twitter as a megaphone. It allowed him to instantly translate his thoughts, provocations, insults, and endorsements into a space where everyone could see them. He reached 88 million followers. I think this is factual. Trump clearly did use Twitter to provoke and insult people. And he did use it as a megaphone.
- Unlike other politicians who use Twitter to interact skillfully with voters, antagonists, and allies, Trump’s Twitter account mostly ignored other users. While he name-checked events and people, there was never any attempt at dialogue. I don’t think any rational observer could say that Trump used Twitter for the purpose of engaging in dialogue. There was no back-and-forth on that account.
- He clearly needed that megaphone. He lost it when Twitter suspended him. Now he has duplicated it, free from the constraints and rules on a platform like Twitter. Factual.
- While Trump will never get to 88 million followers on his own platform, it will serve many of the same purposes. He will be instantly out there with comments on everything that’s happening. His followers will instantly be able to spread those ideas by retweeting his text or sharing it on Facebook. He has reinserted himself in the dialogue. A series of predictions that I don’t believe are biased.
- Trump had also used Twitter to intimidate people who threatened to cross him or weaken his stranglehold on the Republican party. He’s using “From the Desk” to the same ends. He’s used it to threaten Liz Cheney and Mitt Romney already. Trump’s Twitter feed was full of threats and insults. So is his site. There is no argument about this.
- His allies will be able to share and respond to his ideas on this site, while his enemies will be able to challenge and ridicule them. Factual.
- [T]here will be discussion and controversy, which is what Trump thrives on. Can anyone seriously challenge whether Trump thrives on controversy?
- Twitter and Facebook will find “From the Desk” creates challenges. This section includes analysis of Facebook’s and Twitter’s ban on Trump’s accounts and attempts to evade those bans. It makes predictions, but none of them denigrate Trump.
- Trump’s megaphone is legal. The problem is not the megaphone, it is the messages. This is biased, since it asserts there is a problem with Trump’s messages.
- Trump is going to accomplish many of his communications goals with this site. A prediction. Not biased.
- The same first Amendment that allows Twitter to kick Trump off allows him to create his own site. True.
- If you have a problem with this, then the solution is to create communication that wins over more people and marginalizes Trump’s viewpoint. That’s the only way to win the messaging war. This statement is aimed at Trump’s opponents and describes their possible strategy. If you are a Trump supporter, this isn’t aimed at you, nor does it denigrate Trump.
Where’s the bias?
Obviously a biased person evaluating his own bias is problematic. But if you buy my analysis, there are only three biased bits in this post.
I called Trump’s posts “bleats.”
I said there was a problem with his messages.
And I used this photo to add a little levity. The interpretation of the photo is up to you.
If you find this post outrageously biased, I’d argue that you’re easily triggered. More than 95% of this is unbiased recitation of facts and neutral analysis.
I will continue to strive to offer a balanced perspective, because an honest analyst attempts to do that.
Analysts, like all humans, have bias. The question is not whether they are objective. The question is whether they can offer objective analysis that is valuable regardless of the point of view of the reader.
If you want to see red at every bit of analysis — regardless of whether there is a provocation there or not — then you’ll only be comfortable reading media that’s biased to your point of view. You’ll continue to be stuck in a narrow viewpoint. And that’s not good for you, or for our body politic as a whole.