In an lengthy new essay, Scottish-born Talking Heads frontman David Byrne theorized that the main reason for the explosive political rise of Donald Trump is his supporters’ inability to seek information outside of the social media “echo chamber” to become more aware of the Republican presidential frontrunner’s “lies and bullsh*t.”
In the essay posted to his website, Byrne hypothesized that the “end of the American dream” and the rise of a social media that utilizes algorithms based on user preferences have combined to boost Trump’s popularity.
He also repeatedly criticized Trump for what he called the “ridiculousness of many of his positions and ideas” and accused the candidate of running for president for his own personal gain.
The musician began by crediting special interest money in politics with much of the anger Americans feel toward government:
One reason why folks on either side of the party line are angry with how things stand is that both sides sense that Congress is beholden to the money of special interests and consequently the voice of the people goes unheard. Democrats might blame the Koch brothers and I’m sure that conservatives blame some outside influences, too. The decision to bailout the banks doesn’t sit right with some, and others feel that the government wants to regulate their private lives.
“Add to that the feeling of impotence — that traditional remedies and corrections aren’t effective anymore — and you have a pretty explosive cocktail,” he continued. “This probably drives a lot of Sanders supporters too, though my bias leads me to assume that Sanders isn’t propagating outright lies and misconceptions — he’s actually addressing issues and not simply massaging his ego and building his brand.”
Having examined the cause of the country’s anger and after revealing his own presidential preference, Byrne questioned how “folks continue to ignore facts.” The musician pinned the blame on the “insularity” of social media services like Facebook and Twitter:
The problem with Facebook and Twitter is that those platforms mostly present a point of view that you already agree with, since you only see what your “friends” are sharing. We all do this to some extent—your friends share news with you and presumably many of your friends share your viewpoints. The algorithms built into those social networks are designed to reinforce this natural human tendency and expand upon it—if you like this, you’ll like this. The networks reinforce your existing point of view in order to give you more of what you like, as that will make you happy and keep you on the network—and, in turn, more ads can be accurately targeted your way. You remain blissfully happy “knowing” or, rather, believing, more and more about less and less. Add that algorithm to folks’ natural inclination to seek points of view that confirm existing biases and you’ve got a potent combination. Once you’ve surrounded yourself with only one point of view, soon that point of view is all you hear.
“That is why, a friend argued, Trump supporters are immune to criticism and to the exposure of his lies and false accusations: for the most part these algorithms and subsequent self-censorship make it so that they never see anything but what they already agree with,” Byrne wrote.
“As often happens when groups of like-minded individuals discuss something, the result is that their points of view are not only reinforced but also become more extreme.”
Read the rest of Byrne’s essay on his website.