Young, Vibrant and Controversial: The Rise of Tomi Lahren and the End of Moderation

I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore. – Howard Beale, Network

YOU’VE SEEN HER, surely. You’ve been scrolling through your Facebook News Feed. A video appears, in which a rather striking young blonde haired, bright-eyed female is saying something. She’s sitting inside what appears to be a studio of some sort. You’re not quite sure what she’s saying, and you won’t be unless you click on the video releasing the audio and potentially startling yourself and others around you.

Regardless, you can tell she looks rather perturbed about something. It’s hard to imagine what, but the furrowed brow, pursed lips, and intense gaze warn you that she means business. Do you know who I’m talking about, now? If your arsenal of Facebook friends include any whose leanings fall on the far right shoulder of the American political highway, you’ve probably been introduced. I’m talking about Tomi Lahren. She’s the rather passionate and controversial TheBlaze anchor, conservative pundit and now significant voice in our nation’s political and social climate.

Disclaimer time: Some may argue this column has a bias, and I don’t mean it to. I’m sure Tomi Lahren is a perfectly wonderful woman, and she is entitled to her views. I don’t mean any of this to be insulting to her or to her cause, which she is very vocal about. I am not a Tomi Lahren “troll”, which she has plenty of and is not shy about bragging about. My aim with this column is to examine both Tomi Lahren and how she became, in a matter of years (or maybe months), a significant voice in this country.

For those who share her views and videos, she has become an important ambassador representing a certain anger surrounding the current establishment, or left wing sentiment, that many people feel and are trying to express through her. It’s so easy for all of us to either applaud Lahren’s rather strong views or disdain them. It’s much harder to really examine why they have become a fixture on such an important component of our society: social technology. That’s what I want to do here. Let’s keep it classy, internet!

I think to examine the rise of Tomi Lahren, it’s critical to observe the climate we live in today. They go hand in hand. Today, in certain broad circles, Breitbart has become more influential than the New York Times, Washington Post, and Huffington Post combined. I think that’s surely the case in this political election, and I think we can include a large swath of the American electorate who would sooner get their news from Breitbart than they would the Times or the Post. Let’s be honest, when it comes to social technology, which is rapidly becoming, or maybe already is, the most important distiller of news in this country, Breitbart (and others like it) are leaving the legacy news pushers in the dust.

So I wanted to do a little digging on Tomi Lahren. I may or may not have gone straight to Wikipedia. That secret will remain between my browser history and I. Of course I was met by the number 1992, which was the year of Miss Lahren’s birth. The surprising fact that she missed the entire 1980s and at least one/tenth of the 1990s may or may not have made me temporarily choke on the drink I was enjoying at the time. That secret will remain between my esophagus and I.

Lahren was born and raised in South Dakota. She’s a UNLV grad. She began her career at the One America News Network, where in July of 2015 she gained national notoriety for her thoughts on President Obama’s reaction to the shooting deaths of four Marines in Chattanooga at the hands of Mohammad Youssuf Abdulazeez.

She joined TheBlaze and began broadcasting for the network in early 2016. Her “Final Thoughts” segments soon begun creating buzz, literally. Her criticism of Beyoncé Knowles’s Super Bowl Halftime Show, in which Lahren ripped the pop icon for what Lahren believed was Beyonce’s use of the enormous stage to promote the Black Lives Matter movement, riled up Beyonce’s devoted followers (known as The BeyHive) who, according to Lahren, flooded her Instagram account with their angry displeasure.

In July, she set Twitter afire with a single tweet following the deadly shooting of police officers in Dallas.

The tweet was soon deleted but the firestorm it ignited was not. Her subsequent defending of the Tweet and the resulting backlash only fueled the blaze. Eventually a petition to have her removed from TheBlaze on Change.org was signed by over 61,000 people.

Her “Final Thoughts” once again flooded the innocent news feeds of Facebook and Twitter users over the past few weeks with her thoughts on 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s decision to not stand during the playing of the national anthem as a protest to his feelings that African-Americans are being oppressed in America.

Not surprisingly, the “Final Thoughts” segment caused many to applaud, many to hiss, many to like and share, many to comment, and much more feces to be hurled across cyberspace. This all has continued to raise the profile of Lahren, who only two years ago picked up her college diploma.

I wanted to take a quick look at Tomi Lahren’s social channel footprint compared to some of the major staples of today’s mainstream broadcast press. Let’s be clear, a successful broadcaster should not be measured on their number of followers and likes.

If our work was measured in likes, follows, comments, and shares, I, myself, ought to just drop my pen and walk away. But I think this is an interesting “Social Q-Score.” I’m focusing on Twitter and Facebook because they are the major aggregates of news on social networks. Instagram is more visual content than it is news and opinion. That being said, below is a very high-level look at Tomi Lahren’s social presence compared to some of the major players in broadcast news today.

infographic

Some of these numbers may be skewed because likes and followers are, at times, split between the personality’s official show page and personality page. Yet, I think it really speaks to the visibility Tomi Lahern has built in a short time, and she doesn’t have nearly the launching pad that the others featured in the above infographic have.

TheBlaze has nowhere near the following of Fox News, CNN, or MSNBC/NBC. Yet, Lahern has been able to create a social channel following that rivals some of the biggest names in the broadcast industry, especially on Facebook, where she is currently outshining her “competition.”

I think it’s also worth noting that Tomi Lahren isn’t the only personality launching dangerous missiles of vitriol at the other side. Even members of the mainstream (or “lamestream,” depending on your perspective) press are guilty of this firebrand.

New York Times Columnist Charles M. Blow published a column on August 4th touting his belief that Donald Trump’s campaign is shining a light on “white male fragility.” Writes Blow in the column:

“In their minds, whether explicitly or implicitly, America is white, Christian, straight and male-dominated. If you support Trump, you are on some level supporting his bigotry and racism. You don’t get to have a puppy and not pick up the poop.”

He also doubled down on his column appearing on CNN Anchor Don Lemon’s show and saying during an exchange with Trump supporter Bruce LeVell, “I’m a black man in America and I know a bigot when I see a bigot and you are supporting a bigot and that makes you part of the bigotry that’s Donald Trump.” Whether or not he was calling every single Trump supporter an outright bigot could be up for debate.

Meanwhile, while Lahren likened Black Lives Matter to the KKK, the Southern Poverty Law Center recently labeled White Lives Matter as a hate group. Considering the movement may have ties to white supremacy groups, the announcement was not a huge shocker, but no less depressing. All of this is enough to make your head spin, or want to vomit, or maybe cry.

There is a rift happening in this country. Tectonic forces are pulling us all apart. The fault line currently is Facebook. It’s no wonder why all of the children have avoided Facebook and opted for Snapchat instead. They have because their parents are all on Facebook, and their parents have all gone ape—t crazy. This is something Facebook ought to take notice of. Twitter is currently enduring a similar problem, albeit, at a much larger scale. When extremists take over anything, the outcome tends to be rather unfortunate.

None of this is new. Rush has been on the radio for decades. Shock jocks have been around since the middle part of the last century. The mainstream press has been accused of a liberal bias since cigarette smoke freely wafted around the microphones inside 30 Rockefeller Plaza. But we’ve never seen it on this scale. I think it’s undeniable that social technologies are playing a critical role in this division.

It’s kind of like we handed those with extreme views a bullhorn and said have at it. It was a momentary lapse in judgement for us in the middle, because now we have to stand here and listen to the unceasing toxic noise pass through our eardrums and straight into our exhausted brains.

Facebook, and other social technologies like it, are the greatest communication tool created in the history of the world. How do we use the greatest communication tool created in the history of the world: to share memes that show Donald Trump in a Hitler mustache and refer to Hillary Clinton as the “b—h of Benghazi.”

We troll Tomi Lahren and Leslie Jones while calling them names and spewing expletives at them. We create movements dividing races and then indignantly promote them using these tools. Why, because it’s easy. It’s much easier than creating healthy discussions surrounding the very real issues of race, gender, and political thought in this country. Instead of bringing us closer together, the greatest communication tool created in the history of the world is ripping us apart, in a very dangerous way.

Legendary broadcaster Edward R. Murrow once said, “Just because your voice reaches halfway around the world doesn’t mean you are wiser than when it reached only to the end of the bar.” The internet allows our voices to reach much further than halfway around the world. So, if the internet is a bar, then it’s time for us all to call a cab. I think we’ve had a few too many. We’ve become that guy. You know the one who went from fun drunk to angry drunk faster than a shot glass is emptied at a Las Vegas nightclub. It’s time for us to admit we have a problem and seek help.

So where do we start? By one small step. I am including a link to a feature produced by ESPN that aired this past weekend on the network. The story chronicles PFC Nick Madaras, who was killed in Iraq. Nick had a passion for soccer, which he shared with the youth of Iraq. While on leave back in America, he spoke about how talented the kids were and the shame he felt that they didn’t have soccer balls to use and instead were using objects like old tin cans. He asked his family to send him a few balls so he could distribute them to the children in Baqubah. Sadly he never got the chance to do this. Following his tragic death, what was a simple, kind gesture by PFC Madaras turned into a powerful movement that is making the lives of children in need, around the world, a little brighter.

I have a challenge for you, internet. Let’s this week, avoid sharing anyone’s “Final Thoughts,” or our feelings about Colin Kaepernick, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, a proposed wall between Mexico and America, destroyed cell phones, the potentially shady business practices of a foundation run by an ex-president, things of this nature. Granted these are extremely important issues, which should and will be discussed. But, let’s take a break and decompress a little bit. We could all use it. Let’s instead share the story above, everywhere. Let’s cleanse ourselves of the toxins and spread the hope, love, and miracles God is capable of bringing into this world. I know you can do it, internet. I believe in you.

I will close with the famous words of Edward R. Murrow, words we all could definitely use on this Labor Day, 2016.

“Good night, and good luck.”

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