Social Media and the Presidential Election 2016

Social Media and the Presidential Election 2016

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Donald Trump has over 12.6 million followers on Twitter, 2.7 million on Instagram, and 11.4 million likes on Facebook. Hillary Clinton only has 9.8 million followers on Twitter, 2.5 million on Instagram, and 7.1 million likes on Facebook – both with most likely upward trends. According to these numbers the decision who will become the next president of the United States has already been made. Social media channels play an increasingly important role in political issues – is this a good or a bad thing?

According to the Rew Research Center, more and more people get their political information from the candidates’ social media channels instead of their official campaign websites. The campaign websites still are a way to communicate with and mobilizes potential voters; however, the overall role shrank to a smaller amount. Meanwhile, Twitter and Facebook become the largest information platforms for potential voters. It is remarkable that Clinton and Trump post at similar rates, albeit with differences regarding the posts’ quality, purpose and received attention. While Clinton uses Facebook to share links and videos on official campaign communication with rational reasons and provides facts and statistics to support her standing, even translating some of her posts into Spanish, Trump’s posts mostly refer to news media in general and often use broad generalizations with little evidence to back them up. Have a look for yourself – I have included one Facebook post from Hillary Clinton and one from Donald Trump:

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This behavioral pattern can similarly be seen on Twitter and Instagram. However, on Twitter Trump re-tweets more ordinary people than Clinton. Now take a look at the responses to these activities – Trump outplays Clinton in all ways. His Tweets and Facebook posts are shared, commented on and re-tweeted way more often. It is also noticeable, that Trump and Clinton mention each other quite often in their posts on Twitter and Facebook.

Let us focus on the first presidential debate – how did the candidates use Social Media in this situation? To the usual Twitter and Facebook activities, Clinton’s team sent emails to supporters asking them to engage actively and support Hillary in all Social Media channels during the debate. In contrast, Trump bought a Snapchat filter. According to Sysomos, Clinton’s name was mentioned over 1.3 million times on Twitter compared to Trump’s over 1.7 million mentions.

But why is social media so powerful? And is it possible to change voters’ minds and opinions?

It is the easiest and quickest way to communicate with and reach millions of potential voters. Social Media gives people who do not take part in political debates the opportunity to speak up, respond to, and connect with people who share the same view and ideas on topics. Especially the undecided people, often the younger ones who had not yet the chance to establish a grounded political view and may even vote for the very first time this November, can shape their opinion and decide who to vote for. However, young people are the second biggest demographic voting group, they have the lowest turnover on Election Day.

Although interacting with Facebook and Twitter users is a great way to get young people taking about politics, that will likely continue to gain importance over the next presidential elections, it does not mean that Clinton and Trump can count on their political support or even on their vote for their presidency.

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