David Byrne Blames Social Media for Trump’s Political Rise


With an election where one candidate is a 74 year old Jew who, unlike so many others, doesn’t shy away from the word “revolution” — but who people accuse of idealism; where another candidate could set an important precedent by becoming the first woman president — but who people accuse of defeatist pragmatism; where another candidate is a fascistic reality TV star and real estate tycoon looking after his best interests and another is one of the most terrifyingly fervent evangelicals we’ve seen make it this far in a modern election — everyone seems to be growing increasingly engaged. This election is vastly different than any other, and it’ll likely only grow more heated the closer we get to the end of the primaries. As such, we’re hearing from voices we may not have expected to weigh in on elections — friends we’d formerly deemed apolitical, celebrities we wouldn’t have known cared. The latest voice to contribute to the conversation about the election is David Byrne.

The iconic former Talking Head/current solo artist/nonfiction author penned an essay analyzing the political rise of Donald Trump, who recently won the New Hampshire Republican primary and who’s polling well in South Carolina — where the next primary takes place.

Byrne titled his essay “The Echo Chamber,” based on the very space on which you’re reading it — the Internet, as he’s done in the past — though here he’s aiming his critique predominantly at social media. It seems Byrne’s main point is the Internet’s amplification of extremes, how the false-pluralism of social media — on which people mostly read posts by their friends — may accelerate the extremism that could lead so many people to side with Trump, because “lately it seems that anything that contradicts a passionate belief has become invisible.” His argument is well-stated, if at times somewhat obvious or vague.

He tries to answer the question of why people who support Trump seem “immune to criticism and to the exposure of his lies”:

Americans feel disenfranchised—that the government isn’t responsible to the people and instead only responds to the wishes of special interests. In my opinion, the latter is not just a feeling, it’s true. Add to that the feeling of impotence—that traditional remedies and corrections aren’t effective anymore—and you have a pretty explosive cocktail. 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.

He insinuates a couple of reasons Trump is appealing to middle-class white men:

According to a study by Nobel Laureate Angus Deaton and Anne Case, white middle class men may be killing themselves due to an increase in pessimistic outlooks concerning their financial futures. My guess is that the middle class senses the end of the American dream and that white middle class Americans are experiencing a lack of mobility and opportunity in the economic spheres where they were previously the privileged and entitled majority.

He suggests that this feeling of unease, coupled with the insularity of the Internet have led people to become more averse to rational criticisms of someone like Trump:

It’s been suggested that social media has a big hand in this increase in insularity. By its nature, a social network is adept at creating in-groups that share similar likes and opinions. Like many people nowadays, followers of Trump (and other candidates) often get their news from social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook…We would like to think of the web at a place of pluralism—a place where many voices, often at odds with one another, can be heard. A place of diversity. A place to find out what wonderful and unexpected stuff exists that is different than anything and everything you already know. It seems that may have been true with net 1.0, but as market forces increasingly take effect, the diversity of voices, while it still exists, is now so filtered and targeted that you may only hear echoes of what you already believe…

Read the whole essay on Byrne’s website.