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Donald Trump, realtor, reality show star, candidate for President of the USA, is the most talked about person on the Internet today. And it’s your fault. Every time you click an article about Donald Trump, the media thinks that is what you want to read, and so it spends more time talking about Trump.
Trump is up against more established politicians, with actual policies, like former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former Governor of Florida Jeb Bush. But if you look at social media or any major news website, Trump dominates the space available.
Trump Has Crazy Media Coverage, And He Milks It
Donald Trump is unlike any Presidential candidate the online world has seen. He is loud, he makes sweeping generalizations, and he has an opinion on everything. He is a textbook examples of how to go viral on the Internet. Media companies know that talking about Trump leads to more page views, so they are happy to keep talking about him.
In the past month, CNN had 80 headlines with the word “Trump” in them. The Washington Post had 98 headlines. Trump knows how to be outlandish and get in the press, and he is using all the tricks in the book to do it. He is also a master of turning lemons into lemonade.
After Trump publicized a rival’s phone number to the public, Gawker went to the unusual length of publishing Trump’s phone number on their site, asking people to call him and question him about his ideas. What did Trump do in retaliation? Trump knows how celebrities should react to mean tweets:
Thank you @gawker! Call me on my cellphone 917.756.8000 and listen to my campaign message.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 4, 2015
Genius. Even The Onion is ready to satirize Trump’s media coverage, while knowing fully well that writing about Trump means more pageviews for The Onion. And we at MakeUseOf would be lying if we didn’t admit we hope some of that mojo helps this article.
Is There Merit to Covering Trump?
While the first reaction is that there is too much Trump, there is a case to be made about his coverage. In every Republican Presidential candidacy poll so far, Trump has been first or second.
Given his legitimate chance at winning his party’s nomination for the presidency, doesn’t it make sense to write about him? If it wasn’t Trump, wouldn’t you want to know about the candidate?
“In my view, making decisions solely according to who may win the nomination is the worst way to cover a presidential election,” Steven Ginsberg, senior politics editor at The Washington Post, told Politico. “A whole lot happens on the way to the nomination and you can’t explain what’s happening with the candidates or the country without being on top of all of it.”
Katy Culver, associate director of the Center for Journalism Ethics at the University of Wisconsin, had similar ideas when talking to The International Business Times. Culver dislikes clickbait, but says editors and news directors would logically need to cover a declared and recognizable candidate for the presidency who is doing and saying the things that Trump is.
Ginsberg adds that Trump’s rise in the polls says a lot about America in 2015, and the current state of the Republican Party. It also raises the question of who are the people who are attracted to him as a leader.
The Bottomline: It’s About Numbers, Not Feelings
A report by The Wall Street Journal finds that Trump has dominated conversations on Facebook, compared to his major political rivals. However, the report also points out that Facebook merely tracks public interest, not public sentiment.
The spikes around July 6, July 13 and July 18 were all related to events that could be perceived as negative for the Trump campaign.
- On July 6 and the week before it, news was filtering in about big brands like NASCAR, Macy’s, NBCUniversal, ESPN and others distancing themselves from Trump.
- On July 13, Clinton made a tongue-in-cheek comment saying she had one word for Trump: “Basta”, the Spanish word for “Enough”.
- On July 18, Trump made derogatory remarks about former Republican Presidental candidate John McCain, questioning his war hero credentials.
Buzzfeed News echoes the data. It claims that that Trump drew 25 million interactions in the first week of July. Hillary Clinton, in second place, managed 8.5 million interactions. Buzzfeed also says that it’s not all negative news, and much of the reaction is positive, which it illustrates with this chart:
However, the dates of the last spike match the time when several brands were dropping Trump, which doesn’t entirely make sense. MakeUseOf’s Managing Editor Ryan has previously questioned Buzzfeed’s journalistic credibility, so maybe take that chart with a pinch of salt.
Indeed, election analytics firm Gallup’s latest poll found Trump’s favorability dropping, but the numbers are still positive overall.
Your Fault or Media’s? The Chicken and the Egg
In the digital age, click bait headlines are a real problem. For news organizations, click bait refers to headlines that entice the reader into clicking them, even if there is no journalistic merit in the article. For the organization, that’s one more click, which translates into one more viewer for an ad—their primary revenue source.
Who is to blame here? Readers want to blame the media for making them fall for clickbait with precisely engineered headlines. The media wants to blame social networks like Facebook, where such headlines drive traffic.
After ranting about the state of the media, Facebook’s director of product Mike Hudack summed it up pretty well in the comments:
Is Facebook helping or hurting? I don’t honestly know. You guys are right to point out that Facebook sends a lot of traffic to shitty listicles. But the relationship is tautological, isn’t it? People produce shitty listicles because they’re able to get people to click on them. People click on them so people produce shitty listicles.
Maybe there’s no clear answer.
What do you think? Is the solution to the Trump problem for people to stop clicking on headlines about Trump, thereby “voting with your click”? Or is it an unsolvable chicken and egg problem?