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09/12/2018 11:24 EDT | Updated 09/12/2018 11:33 EDT

In The Trump-Twitter Era, It's Up To Readers To Verify The Truth

We see on a daily basis how established facts clash with President Trump's "truth."

We have witnessed how many recent political campaigns have benefited from one's popularity on social media. Former U.S. president Barack Obama, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and ex-Montreal mayor Denis Coderre all had a strong online presence.

There are endless advantages in the quickness of communication; in the availability of information or entertainment; and the ease of sharing that the internet and social media gives us. But social media also has its faults. Among them: being a huge misinformation generator that bypasses traditional media with its speed and spreading capacity.

The infinity of online news sources is part of the reason why traditional media struggles. Their signal gets lost in an ever growing pool of transmitters. The voice of the reporter fades in the cacophony of countless e-journalists. Now any individual with internet access can become a media publisher through their social network; which, depending on the number of followers, could even challenge the reach of TV channels.

The self-broadcasting president

The biggest news show ratings in the United States are regularly over five million for CNN, seven-plus million for ABC and NBC. While there is no official way to measure a Twitter posts ratings, it's interesting to consider the potential reach.

U.S. President Donald J. Trump has 54.3 million followers on Twitter. Meaning that in perfect conditions, he could reach 54.3 million people with a single tweet. If he only reached 20 per cent of his followers, he would still beat the daily ratings of any of the above-mentioned news show, without considering the amplifying power of re-tweets.

NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a fundraiser in Sioux Falls, South Dakota on Sept. 7, 2018.

Trump doesn't broadcast an hour of informative content. He tweets 280 characters or less at a time. Still, it's a pretty impressive reach for something an individual can produce from a mere smartphone while sitting on the toilet, especially considering that CBS's numbers are coming from 200 TV stations.

The "social news" direct-reach to viewers has had the perverse effect of forcing traditional media to report on tweets. When notorious public figures become channels themselves (obviously enjoying the exclusivity of their own headlines) media outlets have no choice but to follow and quote these super-fast feeds that publish without allowing time for fact verification or research. They just cannot ignore stories that are so widely shared.

We see on a daily basis how established facts clash with President Trump's "truth." His Twitter feed often uses his imagination as a source, yet it carries the weight of 54.3 million followers; and tens of thousands of them give his declarations (a sort of) legitimacy by liking and re-tweeting.

Buying credibility

In today's virtual market, people can now buy likes, followers and subscribers. Google it: 3000 followers can go for as little as $2.97. It's like buying a prospect list, only, it's instantaneous. No door knocking, no phone calls, no e-mails. You pay and magie!, as many as one million followers at a time can be added to your fan club for $2,950! "Fast Delivery" claims one vendor.

For future readers, the sum of followers may give credence to what they consider to be a reliable news source.

What can the same tools do for politicians? How can traditional media keep up with the pace of a self-published one-man media?

While some social networks have begun to address the problem of fake accounts, there's no telling how efficient they will continue to be.

Flooding the truth

Media and technology evolves daily, changing our customer habits. There are no certitudes on how the dynamics of media are going to function over the next decades. For future readers, the sum of followers may give credence to what they consider to be a reliable news source.

Global affairs analyst Susan Glasser recently acknowledged, during an appearance on Don Lemon's CNN Tonight, that President Trump's Twitter feed will be studied by historians. This is both interesting and pathetic (just imagine historians analyzing one of the president's tweets for hours). Who knows how confusing it will be for future generations to make sense of such things as "Facts are in the eye of the beholder" - a quote from the president's lawyer Rudy Giuliani.

Or the "Alternative facts" explanation from Trump's then-press secretary, Kellyanne Conway.

However, since Trump is under constant scrutiny, these quotes will be given context from numerous sources. But there is no way to certify that over time, the facts (the non-alternative ones) won't get drowned out by myriad soundbites from the 45th American president and his team. One day, his words might end up being the top entry for a search on "truth."

In 50 years, what if truth is based on how many likes or shares one has on a statement? For the quick reader, "5.4 million followers" can replace "50 years of publishing" to determine the reliability of a source. This reader won't question if these followers are legitimate, or artificial, or if there was any research on the published facts.

Social media has become a fifth estate, able to criticize and comment on anything, including traditional media. But as a news source, it's deeply flawed since it lacks a code of ethics. This absence makes it necessary for readers to constantly battle against intellectual laziness. It's the reader's responsibility to search and verify facts before sharing information, and now more than ever, before believing anything.

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