The internet is a massive, powerful, and interesting creature. Not only do we have access to infinite information, but we also have the ability to correspond with each other in manners never before thought possible.
But the internet has its downsides, too, and they should not be overlooked.
This election cycle has shown that the internet is a valuable tool for candidates, campaigns, and voters to utilize to interact, disseminate information, and engage in debate. However, the internet is the ultimate “free-speech zone” (more or less), and as such, there is no referee to help disseminate between factual, accurate information and slanderous, inaccurate, and fabricated information.
*Enter Trump Supporters, Stage Right*
In an piece published this morning by the Washington Post, they discovered in their research that:
“…Trump has attracted a disproportionate (and unprecedented) number of “low-information voters” to his campaign. Furthermore, these voters are more likely to respond to emotional appeals — whether about the economy, immigration, Muslims, racial relations, sexism, and even hostility to the first African American U.S. president, Barack Obama.”
The WP goes on to define a “low-information voter” in the following manner:
“We define low-information voters as those who do not know certain basic facts about government and lack what psychologists call a “need for cognition.” Those with a high need for cognition have a positive attitude toward tasks that require reasoning and effortful thinking and are, therefore, more likely to invest the time and resources to do so when evaluating complex issues. Those with a low need for cognition, on the other hand, find little reward in the collection and evaluation of new information when it comes to problem solving and the consideration of competing issue positions. They are more likely to rely on cognitive shortcuts, such as “experts” or other opinion leaders, for cues.”
Last month, I wrote about the impact that low-information voters have had on the 2016 election, but when considering their specific impact in helping elevate Trump, I find it even more curious to see how they have seemingly bought everything Trump has sold them, regardless of the validity; hook, line, and sinker. No questions asked.
The internet seems to be the culprit with regards to Trump’s low-information voter appeal. Firstly, it is widely accepted that the media is in fact biased, especially with the Wikileaks revelations over the past month showing the Clinton campaign being fed debate questions prior to the debate itself. Furthermore, few would argue that the leading news organizations (besides Fox News) all have a left-leaning bias (MSNBC, CBS, CNN, NBC, etc…).
But it is this distrust in the media that has lead to Trump supporters abandoning traditional media in droves, and instead have started relying on non-traditional means of media from various online sources. However, this is where the real trouble begins.
Because of the low-information voter’s lack of trust in traditional media and the validity to the stories they are presented with from the MSM, these voters begin looking for information elsewhere, credibility and facts be damned. Websites like InfoWars.com and Breitbart.com have taken the banner in presenting “real” information to these low-information voters, knowing in advance that their viewership will be more willing to read and share their sensationalized articles simply because they don’t fit in the “MSM” realm.
The problem is that these low-information voters begin promoting the conspiracies and sensationalism produced by these alternative forms of media as fact without fact-checking or verification.
For example, the following links appeared on my news feed dozens of times, shared by several of my Trump-loving friends:
The sharing of these sensational posts alone is not the root cause of the low-information voter’s support of Trump. The greater problem is the sharing of these posts, which then leads to friends of the low-information voter sharing the post, and the exponential spread of the post thereafter.
Since friend groups on social media, by and large, tend to be those we agree with, we find ourselves in an echo-chamber of sorts, sharing information and “news” that reaffirms our preconceived notions. This confirmation bias, when coupled with the reverberating echo-chamber in which low-information voters regurgitate the same information and “news” between one another, only emboldens their resolve and their beliefs in the validity of the information they are sharing, despite the articles having no real substance in facts nor accuracy.
Because of this, “real” news, despite being fact-checked by independent sources, becomes useless to the low-information voters, as it is simply tossed aside as the “rigged MSM” spin as directed by the establishment elites.
When stepping back and considering all of this, it makes perfect sense that low-information voters support Trump passionately and are unwavering in their support of his candidacy. I mean, this is a candidate who has been fact-checked and found to have promoted nearly 500 lies throughout the duration of his campaign. But despite Trump’s tenuous relationship with the truth, his core base of supporters, the low-information voters, stand firmly by his side.
After all, Trump is the personification of the low-information voter’s means of acquiring information; facts and truth be damned.
-Trump promoting the National Enquirer’s hit-piece on Ted Cruz, in which it was claimed that Cruz was having multiple affairs: (“Ted Cruz’s problem with the National Enquirer is his and his alone, and while they were right about O.J. Simpson, John Edwards, and many others, I certainly hope they are not right about Lyin’ Ted Cruz.”),
-to implying Cruz’s father was somehow connected to Lee Harvey Oswald and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy (“His father was with Lee Harvey Oswald prior to Oswald’s being — you know, shot. I mean, the whole thing is ridiculous. What is this, right prior to his being shot, and nobody even brings it up. They don’t even talk about that. That was reported, and nobody talks about it.”),
-to his most recent lie that President Obama, while at a Clinton campaign rally, was screaming at a Trump protester (“he [Obama] spent so much time screaming at a protester.”),
…Trump has become the epitome of personifying your typical, low-information voter.
Trump doesn’t need to verify or substantiate things he says, because in his mind, simply because he says something means it instantly becomes true. His low-information voters, much like Trump, act in the same matter.
And with tools such as social media and access to the internet, no longer are these low-information voters confined to sharing their wild theories with friends face-to-face, but can now share these conspiracies and falsehoods to thousands of others.