Inside #Cult45 is an ongoing contributor project and as such will be presented as a series, updated with new chapters as the project progresses. This post will include the third and fourth chapters, Building the Base and Second Thoughts. Any specific identifying information to the contributor has been altered to protect the privacy of the author and the subjects.
Building the base
I started following followers of people who had followed me, expanding my network of users one account at a time. All the while tweeting some talking points, chatting with folks, replying to their Tweets, and thanking them for following me with replies adorned with flag emojis sandwiching a raised fist emoji. That combo became my signature. I used it in the majority of interactions. I praised Donald Trump’s amazing prowess as our POTUS in grand patriotic terms. The following was my pinned Tweet on my profile. I was pretty proud of it. “ #AmericaFirst is not a simple catch phrase. It’s a bold patriotic statement showing our intent to honor our citizens and our republic. No longer will we tolerate the denigration of the U.S. by our neighbors and the globalist powers. The Patriots have spoken!” Tweeted like a true deplorable.
I derided the libs over all their failures. I Tweeted about the “impeachment hoax”. I retweeted right wing news with my own snarky comments, owning the do-nothing dems. I started to follow MAGA follow back lists, following dozens of users at a time and gaining more return followers this way. My follower count started to go up. I would need quite a few followers to get a decent sample of the Twitter MAGA base. It honestly felt a little bizarre and I did feel a bit guilty. Even though I despised the #Cult45, I was deceiving people when it came down to it. I was an interloper. A spy. But, I had a project and my intentions were to analyze and learn. How else was I going to accomplish this? They would never interact with me otherwise. It was like an exclusive club and I was not a member. My intentions were not to troll, not to divide but just to get in, fit in, establish a following, learn some hopefully useful information and then leave, deleting the account and disappearing. I rationalized that this was a legitimate, possibly useful project. A fact finding mission, a study of a subculture unique to this period in American history. At least thats what I told myself.
Pretty soon people were retweeting my tweets, following me of their own accord, ever expanding my network of Twitter followers. Soon I myself was put on follow back lists and my follower count took off. First day of this project I harvested 242 random MAGA followers, attracted to my profile like bees to flowers. I was one of the gang, some of them welcomed me, some even directed messaging just to say hi. I felt welcomed to their world. Which was a pretty calm friendly place. This was a bit stunning to me as I was used to the Resistance world where we would carefully vet accounts to avoid being followed by MAGA trolls, Russian trolls or groups of bots.This was a common occurrence on the Resistance side.The aspect of vetting simply didn’t seem to exist in the Trump MAGA Twitterverse. It was never mentioned. Not once. Perhaps this is because the left is less likely to infiltrate and troll them? Maybe it was their disbelief in Russian trolls, interference and propaganda tactics? It was odd for sure, but made for building up a following less intensive and much more quickly.
Again, all of this felt a bit bizarre. The deception aspect of it all still bothered me. So far, everyone was pretty nice. There was no in-fighting or bad actors. Just a lot of optimism for the 2020 election. I wondered how actual spies did covert disguised operations. Constantly deceiving folks they had perhaps just met, or cultivated relationships with. CIA field agents must be complete sociopaths. I started to think that this project wouldn’t be too long lived. It felt dirty, with a dash of anxiety due to the ever present possibility that maybe I would be caught. But a disconcerting sense of superiority also began to creep in. I was pulling the wool over the eyes of these folks and they were none the wiser. I decided that I would never interact in a way that would get me too close to individual users. I wouldn’t troll or cause divisions. The primary job was observation and then analysis, hopefully leading to a greater understanding of the Trump Twitter base, and maybe even understand better our greater political divides.
In liberal Resistance Twitter land, all of these Twitter culture components are the same. Except for the afore mentioned vetting process. The follower gathering process, the follow back lists to boost follower counts, the meeting of users via replies and interactions and mutual followers. And the biggest similarity? It was the lack of interaction with the “opposition”. We had created separate ecosystems, separate realities, two teams with entirely different information sets coming in, feeding our biases. Twitter’s algorithms are great for this. We surrounded ourselves with people of the same interest.
Both the right and the left lived in parallel worlds, separated by ones and zeroes, hashtags and emojis, opinions and ideologies, and they rarely intersected. And when the intersection did happen, it was usually not pleasant or ended in trolling, personal attacks and getting out of hand quickly. We were a divided nation. I started to realize that this project was going to teach me about more than just the MAGA world. I was starting to be confronted with the idea that we may be more alike in some respects than different. We had created sterile digital bubbles to exist in.