Donald J Trump won the 2016 US Presidential Election. Regardless of how you feel, it was clear this social media drove the narrative for this election rather than mass media. Ever since Howard Dean first used the Internet as a serious political tool in 2004, the ability to define the driving narrative of political races has moved decisively to Internet and social media.
To be sure, social media did not create the issues or discussions that defined the 2016 election. Facebook and Twitter didn't invent racism, misogyny and class warfare. But it's arguable these platforms provided racists, misogynists and class warfighters with new capabilities that the political culture and norms of the 20th century mass media simply couldn't match. In that sense, technology plays a huge role in politics because all sides perpetually seek an advantage in voter identification, persuasion and most importantly, turn out on election day.
The issue going forward, however, is what the next few election cycles might bring in terms of technology used for political struggle. Like it or not, if the 2016 election was driven by social media will the 2024 or 2030 elections be driven by artificial intelligence? After all, if AI is going to become part and parcel to daily life, it'll no doubt become part of our political process as well.
If that's the case, we might do well to worry less about Big Brother and worry more about Boss Tweed because AI potentially offers a new path to dispense political patronage down to the individual voter. Don't forget, that Donald Trump knows the casino business where identifying individuals in order to give them the right perks so they'll lose big at the right tables is part and parcel of the business model.
Even as we analyze the role of social media in the 2016 presidential election, we really need to start thinking about AI-powered Tammany Hall, or Mayor Daly's Chicago or Japan's Liberal Democratic Party after WWII. Can we unwittingly code in political power that endures beyond election cycles?