Social Media Helped Trump Win By 'Dumbing Down the World,' Twitter Founder Says

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Social Media Helped Trump Win By 'Dumbing Down the World,' Twitter Founder Says

"There is a media ecosystem that is supported and thrives on attention, period. And that is what's making us dumber and not smarter, and Donald Trump is a symptom of that."

"Quoting Trump's tweets, or quoting the latest stupidest thing that any political candidate or anyone else says, is an effective way to exploit people's basest instincts," Twitter co-founder Evan Williams said.

"Quoting Trump's tweets, or quoting the latest stupidest thing that any political candidate or anyone else says, is an effective way to exploit people's basest instincts," Twitter co-founder Evan Williams said. (Photo: Randy Stewart/Flickr/cc)

In an interview on BBC Radio 4's "Today" on Tuesday, Twitter co-founder Evan Williams argued that social media platforms—including the one he helped create—greatly contributed to Donald Trump's ascent to the White House by shortening attention spans and "dumbing the entire world down."

"It is the ad-driven media that churns stuff out on a minute-by-minute basis and their only measure is whether or not someone clicks on it." 
—Evan Williams, Twitter

Williams dissented from the common view that Trump's personal Twitter use was a major factor in his victory, arguing instead that it was the broader effect of social media on the "quality of the information we consume."

Sensational and inaccurate information can be disseminated more rapidly than ever before thanks to Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms, "reinforcing dangerous beliefs and isolating people and limiting people's open-mindedness and respect for truth."

"There is a media ecosystem that is supported and thrives on attention, period. And that is what's making us dumber and not smarter, and Donald Trump is a symptom of that," Williams said.

Media driven purely by advertising has a particularly distorting effect, Williams argued.

"It is the ad-driven media that churns stuff out on a minute-by-minute basis and their only measure is whether or not someone clicks on it. Therefore quoting Trump's tweets, or quoting the latest stupidest thing that any political candidate or anyone else says, is an effective way to exploit people's basest instincts. And that is dumbing the entire world down."

Trump—who once christened himself "the Ernest Hemingway of 140 characters"—appears to share Williams' assessment of social media's role in his victory in the presidential election.

"Twitter is a wonderful thing for me because I can get the word out," Trump said in an March interview with Fox News's Tucker Carlson.

"Without the tweets, I wouldn't be here," Trump concluded in a conversation with the Financial Times in April.

Trump has since used his Twitter profile for a wide variety of purposes—to launch a sexist attack against MSNBC's Mika Brzezinski, to smear anti-racist protestors, and to move the world closer to a nuclear catastrophe.

Williams, who stepped down as Twitter's CEO in 2010 and went on to found the online publishing platform Medium, apologized in May for any role his company played in helping former reality television star Trump become the leader of the world's most powerful country.

"If it's true that he wouldn't be president if it weren't for Twitter, then yeah, I'm sorry," Williams said.

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