In Donald Trump’s first 10 days as President, his 22.9 million @realDonaldTrump followers have been served 65+ tweets (and still counting). It is the unadulterated, stream of consciousness voice of our President, alternatively boasting about his inauguration attendance and TV ratings, scolding Republican senators for criticism of his executive order to ban immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries, belittling the Women’s Marches, and exhorting followers to stay tuned for his live prime time announcement of his Supreme Court nominee. The rhetoric is often inflammatory or salesman-like; he is trumpeting the Trump brand that we have all come to expect — the man who speaks his mind, regardless of evidence.
Trump has dramatically changed the way a President communicates with the American people. Social media has usurped the press as the president’s preferred communication channel. It is immediate and unfiltered by mainstream media, delivering his message directly to his audience. He drives and controls the national conversation, keeping his message timely and on trend, diverting attention from unfriendly news, demanding and dominating coverage through a Twitter barrage of shock and awe. He is the Genghis Khan of modern media.
Jeff Sparrow, writing for Al Jazeera, points to what he calls the progessive’s new Anti-Trump Trumpism, reactionary rhetoric from the Left which helps to “entrench conservatism’s authoritarian, conspiratorial nationalism within the US mainstream.” Anti-Trump Trumpisms, he contends, are the Left’s “desperate need to build a mass constituency for progressive, anti-racist and anti-sexist ideas… an attempt to sidestep the hard work necessary to rebuild the Left.”
Ouch. Does the Left need Trump to be a liar to be proven right? Do like-minded social media collectives help to echo, amplify, and mainstream conspiratorial nationalism? How can social media instead help protest become successful social movement?
Srdja Popovic, Executive Director of the Center for Applied Nonviolence Action and Strategies, points to protests like the massive global marches last week as crucially important for creating transformation change, but they are just the first step. He outlines five steps to move protest into successful social movement.
- Define the specific change you want to see. Move beyond slogans to clear vision of the change.
- Shift the spectrum of allies. Begin by mobilizing your active allies and core supporters. Reach out to passive supporters, and then bring neutral groups over to your side. Successful movements don’t overpower their opponents; they gradually undermine their opponents’ support.
- Identify the pillars of power. While it is crucial to recruit allies from up and down the spectrum of support, it is also important to identify the institutions that have the power to implement the change you seek.Which stakeholders inside or outside the halls of power have the ability to implement or resist change? What are their incentives? How can they benefit or be hurt by the change you seek?
- Seek to attract not overpower. Every movement seeks to correct some injustice, so it’s easy to fall into the trap of demonizing the other side. Instead, start with small, achievable goals. Cheap, easy-to-replicate, low-risk tactics are the most likely to succeed.
- Build a plan to survive victory. Just because you win an election or get a program approved and funded doesn’t mean it’s time to declare victory. It’s at this point that you must strengthen alliances and renew each stakeholder’s commitment to what created change in the first place.
Popovic, founder of the Serbian youth movement that toppled Slobodan Milosevic, underscores the critical need for shared purpose and the ability to get others to rally and work towards the cause, “History is made by those who can define a path forward and persuade others — even those who are initially skeptical — that it is a journey worth embarking on.”
Certainly, social media technology has the reach. But it is people with shared purpose and a coherent social strategy that can catalyze change.