Fast and Furious: News in the Age of Trump
On January 3rd, 2020, America woke to news of the airstrike that killed Iranian General Qassem Soleimani. But instead of reading bolded headlines or watching the words “breaking news” glide across TV screens, many teenagers received word through TikToks, the significance of this event obscured by upbeat music and jokes of a looming war.
Under President Donald Trump, the news has become a spectacle. And that’s by design. He’s a former reality TV star, with a finely honed skill for keeping his audience members on the edge of their seats.
“Trump has made news more of an addiction,” said Kate Harty (‘20). “Every event is so heavily dramatized to feed into this addictive mindset.”
It seems that there’s a new revelation every day, and the sheer magnitude of sources that report on each event can make many feel overwhelmed.
“The Internet gives you access to so much information,” said Upper School History Teacher Erland Zygmuntowicz. “If you’re savvy about how to access and evaluate it, you can really understand a lot.”
But for those who are not so savvy, the Internet can be a labyrinth of mixed messages and contradictory opinions. And with Trump’s denigration of the free press and the popularization of the term “fake news,” it has become even more difficult to determine what to believe. Many choose to avoid sifting through these news sources altogether, instead receiving information for the first time through Instagram stories or TikToks. But just how much should we trust social media to keep us in the loop?
“Instead of reading a credible source like the New York Times, people are learning through social platforms, sometimes in the form of a meme or video that glorifies and diminishes the significance of the event,” said Sara Gerson (‘21).
This issue derives from both the popularity of these social platforms and the personality of our current president. Since taking office, Trump has tweeted over 11,000 times. It’s not inherently damaging for a politician to be active on social media, but Trump’s conduct is unlike any other president that the U.S.—or any other country, for that matter—has witnessed.
“There’s an element of reality TV in the way he operates that manages to have a big impact on what people are focused on,” said Mr. Zyg. “He’s described the press as the enemy of the people. When you do that, it creates confusion about what’s real and who to believe. And that’s going on in a social media environment, in which people tend to live in information silos.”
Trump’s activity on Twitter has made social media a core part of his presidency and of American politics as a whole. It’s no wonder that so many people, teenagers especially, have begun to turn to similar platforms for news. Whether a 280-character message or a minute-long video, these quick posts allow Americans to understand the gist of what’s going on without having to carve out time in their busy days to read newspaper articles or listen to radio broadcasts.
“I think that social media can be a really powerful tool for me to see how people are processing current events and to gauge how I feel about it,” said Kate. “[But] I also think [it] has a tendency to reinforce existing beliefs, so it’s not necessarily reliable as a sole method of receiving news.”
With the upcoming election, it is crucial that Americans—especially those who will be able to cast their votes for the very first time—have more than just a surface-level understanding of the current state of our country and our world.
“A true understanding of something comes from more than hearing someone else’s opinion—it’s also about having to articulate your own,” said Sara.
Perhaps more important than reading a wide variety of news sources is digesting what these sources are saying. And the best way to do that, especially in a learning environment like Packer, is to speak with other people, sans screen.