Elections are a glorious time of year when you start seeing dank political memes and opinions all over your Facebook feed, and perhaps never more so than when it comes to... Donald Trump.
We wondered what would happen if non-Trump-supporters pretended to support Donald Trump on Facebook.
Facebook can seem like an echo chamber in which your self-selected audience agrees with you. So we created an experiment. Three people who aren't actual Trump fans would try to create genuinely convincing (and not jokey!) pro-Trump Facebook statuses and see how people reacted.
Thoughts before starting:
Joanna: It was really challenging to come up with a pro-Trump status that didn't sound like a joke. I was nervous. I felt a little physically sick. It was like going public saying I love punching myself in the face. I didn't think many people would believe me. But I knew some might. I pretty much never discuss politics on Facebook because I like to avoid awkward arguments.
Sarah: At first, I was like, "Hell yeah I got this!" And then I sat down and realized this would not be simple. I have a lot of friends in the comedy community (#humblebrag), and I realized doing something so unfunny could get me shunned. But then again, I love debate and argumentation, and I like to think I would have made a good lawyer. So I came up with a roundabout way of saying that maybe I support Trump. I didn't want to be called out as a troll.
Matt: Initially, I had zero desire to participate in this little experiment. I'm liberal, but I've spent my 28 years on this earth carefully avoiding political conversations, since most "conversations" consist of two groups not listening to each other and seeing who can shout louder. However, I also enjoy throwing gasoline on a fire to see how high the flame can go. I never express any opinions on Facebook — political or otherwise — and my only statuses regard losing or breaking my phone. So I took it as a challenge to see if I make a believable pro-Trump status, but I definitely had a knot in my stomach.
I took note of my number of friends and followers before starting the experiment. Friends: 682. Followers: 1,805.
My fake pro-Trump status:
Within minutes I had my first comment:
Some of my family members became concerned.
One of my best friends texted me, concerned, demanding answers.
A bunch of my friends liked my status, but I couldn't tell if they agreed with me or if they were just trolling me back, in an endless circle of trolling.
I decided to take things up a notch by adding a new status saying I agreed with Susan Sarandon.
At the end of the day I'd kept all my friends but lost 32 followers.
Like Joanna, I took note of my friends and followers before posting my Trump rant.
I tried to use logic to explain why I might vote for Trump.
As I feared, I immediately got called out.
And although I did continue to get called out for trolling, an actual dialogue did appear in the comments.
I didn't feel I got enough traction with my first post, so I made two more attempts:
I noticed some of my friends posting comparisons between Game of Thrones characters and presidential candidates, so I thought I would try:
Back on my original post, I was still getting some traction:
Although I gained followers at one point (I was up to 1,373 mid-afternoon), by the end of the day my follower count had evened out.
Before my first pro-Trump status was unleashed I had 1,242 followers and 807 friends on Facebook.
My strategy was to craft a believable status that made me sound so disillusioned with the U.S. government that I'd possibly entertain the idea of having Donald Trump as President.
The problem was I think I ended up sounding too believable. Sixteen people ended up liking the status, but the comments section was pretty quiet. I took the silence as a sign that my friends truly believed what I was saying.
So for my second pro-Trump status I decided to step it up a notch. I put my vote up for grabs and challenged people to give me "legitimate" reasons why Trump is a worse candidate than Bernie and Hilary.
At this point some people started to call me out for trolling, and I thought maybe I went too far. But some people still weren't sure. My girlfriend forwarded me a text asking whether or not I was joking, and then the comments started...
People sent me links to articles explaining why I shouldn't vote for Trump, and another let me know how Baltimore feels.
Then we got to the issue of immigration — at which point my hands covered my eyes and I read through the gaps between my fingers.
By this point the fire was lit. My second status drew 23 comments, some of which were paragraphs long, explaining to me why Donald Trump is a terrible candidate for President — without me responding to a single comment.
Over the course of the day I didn't lose any friends, but I lost 28 followers — and most likely the respect of everyone who never saw my apology.
Joanna: Most people didn't believe I was really a Trump supporter, which was reassuring. But I'll probably never get those precious 32 followers I lost back. I will light a candle for each of them.
I think overall, my Facebook friends were reasonable. They either called me out or tried to engage in a dialogue where they agreed with some of my points (except for the one that Trump would be a good president). I do wish I could have heard from an actual Trump supporter, but alas, I could not break through the echo chamber. It was a little exhilarating when I noticed someone I didn't know had liked the status — I thought finally, I've tricked someone! But realistically, I've come to the conclusion that I am a bad troll. The most surprising thing I could do on Facebook is write a from-the-heart post. Plus the fact that I gained followers is scary. It makes me think they crave pro-Trump content, and now I've got to create that. That's very stressful.
Matt: I knew because I'm generally pretty apolitical that if I wrote a believable status people would have something to say — and I was right. I was pretty remorseful after the fact because some friends — real friends — actually thought I was considering voting for the host of The Apprentice to become the President of the United States. The whole project kind of bummed me out, especially knowing there are 28 people in the world who will always think I'm a Trump supporter. *sigh*