Oranger Than Fiction: The Night the Bubble Burst
Posted on November 15, 2016 by Marian Salzman
Originally posted on PRWeek.
I’d like to hope that of all the bubbles Donald Trump burst on election night, the biggest would be the filter bubbles that so many of us have digitally sealed ourselves into over the past several years. These controlled cocoons of consensus have reassured and reinforced our rightness and downplayed and demonized our detractors.
Unfortunately, right now, I’m not feeling that optimistic. And not only because the words “President Trump” were the ones I tried to keep out of history books by flying to my second-home swing state of Arizona to vote for Hillary.
Trump’s strongest supporters—many of them the 44 percent of American adults who say they get their news from Facebook —dwelled in filter bubbles as impenetrable as the wall Trump hopes to build on our southern border. These conspiracy-driven echo chambers invigorated Trump’s most virulent supporters with a helping of suggestive innuendo from the man himself and his Breitbart-scripted campaign.
Those bubbles aren’t going away anytime soon.
Still, much has been made in the days since the election about the abject failure of the polling and the dramatic errors of those who predicted a 95 percent certainty of a Clinton win. There is now a clarion call for the need to improve the data, the methodologies, and the polls.
Which is a great idea, if you want to ensure the same results again and again, because data doesn’t detect passion. And in an era of anger and resentment, where opinion matters most, that means it may not even yield insights anymore. Especially when it cannot be unpacked from the preconceptions, even preconclusions, of the teams who gathered and parsed it.
What this election proves is that in an age of infinite information, information is worthless. For every fact, there is an opposing fact—and the fact you believe, the fact you deem factual, rests largely in your own established beliefs. Supercharge and color those filter bubbles with frustration, suspicion, and pessimism, and nothing can match them.
So what stops it all from becoming a zero-sum game—from one opinion negating an opposing opinion in an endless loop of blather and bluster?
The answer is right in front of us. Hint: It’s orange.
What makes all the difference now—and by “all,” maybe I mean “only”—is true connection with people. It is what Donald Trump had with his supporters in a way that perhaps even he doesn’t truly understand. And more troubling, that he likely cannot control.
Deep personal connection is what allowed Bernie Sanders to build such a broad coalition with a message of inclusion and equity that still acknowledged and respected their struggles. But it is also how Donald Trump got half of America to open their windows on Nov. 8 and scream, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!”
It is why a billionaire could cast himself as what his admirer Sarah Palin called “an extremely successful and charismatic, with a very large platform, Joe Sixpack.” Why he could be considered a straight shooter who tells it like it is. Why a man with decades of bankruptcies, some failed brands, and a series of investigated frauds can portray himself as a brilliant businessman. Why a man caught on camera boasting of groping women can stand onstage with the first woman presidential candidate and say, “Nobody has more respect for women than I do.”
Looking back, it is painfully clear that every time the Clinton campaign, the press, and the political establishment of both parties tried to stop Trump with facts—and the data that supported them—it brought him one step closer to victory. In fact, the data-driven rebukes of Trump’s ideas only strengthened his connection with people hurting and hungry for a champion. The sophisticated hard data of the information age was no match for the simple, hard truth of their daily lives.
Sometimes facts matter far less than passions. That’s a painful lesson to learn, but it will be much worse for those who refuse to learn it.
One of the most challenging parts of being a trendspotter is inspiring people to understand that trends are not inevitable—they are impending. It is only when we ignore the factors that form them that they become inescapable. I have a feeling that spotting these factors quickly and unflinchingly will become more critical than ever in the days ahead.
The most dangerous thing we could do is to crawl back into our bubbles and slowly reassure ourselves of all our old certainties, just because we have the numbers to prove it.