Social media in the 2016 United States presidential election

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Social media played a predominant role in shaping the course of major events leading up to, during, and after the United States presidential election of 2016. It enabled people to have a greater interaction with the political landscape, controversies, and news surrounding the candidates involved. Unlike traditional news platforms, such as newspapers, radio, and magazines, social media gave people the ability to share, comment, and post below a candidate's advertisement, news surrounding the candidates, or articles regarding the policy of the candidates. This accessibility, in turn, would have a great influence on the events that ultimately led to its outcome.

Candidates would often use multiple social media accounts, such as YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat.[1] Depending on the digital architecture of each platform, candidates would post, create support videos, link to news articles, and challenge other candidates via fact-checking, discrediting, and response. In turn, users could share, like, or comment on these actions, furthering the candidates outreach. By doing so, candidates and users both would influence or change peoples views on a specific issue.[2] With candidates using different combinations of these actions, they built a unique style of communication with the public, influencing the portrayal of themselves in the news, and in their own accounts.[3] These accounts then would help build electoral coalitions, which identify voters and, in turn, raise money. As a result, they ultimately aided in voter mobilization and electoral impact.[4] Researchers from Stanford have found that 62% of U.S. adults get their news on social media and that people are more likely to believe in news favoring their choice of candidate, especially if they have ideologically segregated social networks.[5]

Throughout the campaign, candidates have debated over immigrational, foreign, economic, healthcare, criminal, domestic, educational, environmental, and electoral policy.[6] Using social media, they expanded their base further beyond the broadcast debates, both in the Republican and Democratic primary, and in the general election. In one instance, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton feuded over economic and educational policy in a series of tweets.[7] In another, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump feuded over Obama's endorsement of Hillary Clinton, and the deletion of Twitter accounts.[8] Overall, these and many other events on social media contributed to the outcome of the 2016 election by endorsement, controversy, or other exhibits providing discussion for political discourse.[9]


As the campaign began, analysts assumed that, because of the increased reach and capacity of social media sites of all kinds since the last election cycle, social media would be used in potentially powerful new ways. The Wall Street Journal predicted that the use of campaign advertisements targeted at individuals using newly available data would be among the more notable innovations.[10]

The political newspaper, The Hill, concluded not only that "[s]ocial media's influence in this presidential election is stronger than it has ever been," but that it "will shape campaigns for years to come."[11] According to The Wall Street Journal, the "traditional media" and the Democratic and Republican parties have lost "dominance" of public opinion to the "digital revolution."[12]

Frank Speiser, co-founder of SocialFlow, said, "This is the first true social media election." He added that before the 2016 presidential primaries, social media were a mere "auxiliary method of communication," but in this new era, "folks on social media to act on your behalf by just sharing it around. You don't have to buy access to reach millions of people anymore." According to Republican political strategist Patrick Ruffini, in the 2012 election cycle, candidates would make short statements, and re-tweet or thank followers.[11] The candidates were able to use social media to get free advertising from their supporters. Attendees of political rallies would take photos with the candidates that would then be shared on social media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. This generates more visibility for the candidate at no cost to them.

The Guardian compared Internet memes to political cartoons, arguing, "For the first time in a US election cycle, community-generated memes have grown to play a significant role in political discourse, similar to the classic printed cartoon." While an Internet meme is unlikely to destroy a political career, lots of memes targeting a candidate might.[13]

Donald Trump campaign[edit]

According to the Pew Research Center, social media is playing a pivotal role in the presidential election. 44% of the Americans have admitted to getting their information regarding the 2016 from social media.[14] The Pew research Center posts the finding of public's responses to three presidential candidates- Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, and Bernie Sanders. It finds that while these three candidates post at the same frequency, Trump receives the most responses, with one example being Trump becoming widely discussed across Twitter and the media when he announced his proposed Muslim ban.[15] Unlike other candidates, Trump's Twitter and Facebook posts link to news media rather than the campaign site to focus more on media appearance.[14] Based on the data gathered by the Pew Research Center, 78% of his retweets involves the general public.[14]

Donald Trump's tweet activity from his first tweet in May 2009. His tweet activity pattern has changed from 2013.

The Trump presidential campaign benefited from large numbers of supporters who were active on social media from the beginning of the campaign. In the first Republican Presidential debate, held on August 6, 2015, the moderator asked candidate Jeb Bush if he stood by a statement made the previous April that illegal entry into the U.S. by undocumented migrants is "an act of love."[16] Bush replied that he did and the Trump campaign immediately posted his comment as part of a video showing mugshots of illegal immigrants who committed violent crimes in the US, alternating with footage of Bush saying, "Yeah, they broke the law, but it's not a felony… It's an act of love."[17][18] According to Eric Fehrnstrom, political analyst and media strategist, the video marked a crucial turning point in the campaign for the Republican nomination.[16] Political analyst Michael Barone regarded the ad as a key moment in Trump's political rise.[19] The San Francisco Chronicle described the ad as pivotal in transforming Instagram from a personal photo-sharing app that some celebrities and politicians used to enhance their images, into a propaganda tool.[20]

Supporters of Donald Trump and opponents of Hillary Clinton conducted an Internet campaign between June 2015 and November 2016 in an effort to sway the election.[21] During this time period users of social media, especially Reddit and 4chan, conducted numerous "operations" to sway public opinion using Internet memes, Internet posts and online media.[22][23][24] The Internet conflict that arose from this campaign has been dubbed by some as "The Great Meme War".

Right Side Broadcasting Network frequently uploaded live streams of Donald Trump rallies on YouTube. As of September 2016, the channel has received over 210 thousand subscribers, exceeding the subscribers of MSNBC's YouTube channel.[25]

On Reddit, r/The Donald is a pro-Trump subforum (termed a subreddit on Reddit) which ranks consistently as the most active on the site.[26][27] Due to the very active community that outpaced the rest of the website, the algorithm that dictated what content reached the "r/all" default page of the website resulted in the significant portion of the page being r/The_Donald content. In response, Reddit made changes to its algorithms on June 15 in an attempt to preserve variety of r/all.[28] On July 27, 2016, Trump participated in an Ask Me Anything (AMA) on r/The_Donald, answering thirteen questions from his supporters.[29] r/The_Donald is more active and has a higher subscriber count than the subreddit for Hillary Clinton, r/HillaryClinton.

Trump has become well-documented in his frequent Twitter posts.[30] With social media acting as free media and publicity, Trump harnessed Twitter as a platform to respond quickly to his opponents and tweet about his stance on various issues. Before the Republican National Convention where Trump was named the Republican candidate,[31] he would relentlessly target his fellow Republican candidates when their poll numbers would rise.[32] President-elect Donald Trump utilized Twitter frequently both during and after the 2016 presidential election, explaining that social media helped him win the primary and general elections even though his opponents spent "much more money than [he] spent".[33] While Slate explains that Trump succeeded because he retained his "vulgar vigor and translated it into the political arena",[30] the Washington Post has called his Twitter account "prolific, populist, and self-obsessed".[32]

Hillary Clinton campaign[edit]

Hillary Clinton's campaign team used already established social media strategies and tactics that the candidate had used in previous elections to help boost her popularity in the 2016 election. None of the other candidates had recently run for president, making the tactic unique to Clinton.[34] During the campaign, Trump and Clinton both used external links on their social media posts to connect their audience with outside information. A Pew Research study showed that 80% of Clinton's posts included links to her website or campaign pages, while 78% of Trump's posts included links to news media. It was also found that on Facebook, Clinton linked to her campaign 60% of the time, and the news media a quarter of the time.[35] The Clinton campaign used social media to advertise Trump's use of fake news and potential Russian intervention. Many argue that Clinton's loss was in part due to Trump gaining the votes of groups that do not use social media, while Clinton's audience is active on most social media platforms.[36]

Twitter activity of Hillary Clinton from her first tweet in June 2013 to September 2017. Her tweet activity pattern has changed in 2015.

In April 2016, Correct the Record, a pro-Clinton super PAC, announced a program called "Barrier Breakers" intended to rival the largely online volunteer efforts of Sanders and Trump supporters. With $1 million in funding, Correct the Record employed paid staff described as "former reporters, bloggers, public affairs specialists, designers" to post "exclusively positive content".[37]

On June 9, 2016, as a response to Donald Trump's tweet regarding Obama's endorsement to Clinton, she wrote with a three-word tweet: "Delete your account"; it became her most retweeted tweet of all time.[38][39] After the Democratic National Convention, Clinton began campaigning with running mate, Tim Kaine, and while on the campaign trail, she stated, "I don't know who created Pokémon Go...I try to get them to have Pokémon Go to the polls".[40]

In August 2015, Clinton was involved in a back-and-forth with Jeb Bush. Bush copied one of Clinton's Twitter graphics that discussed student debt. Clinton responded by crossing out the words on Bush's graphic and stating “F: The grade to Florida for college affordability under Jeb Bush’s leadership.” with the caption “@JebBush Fixed it for you.” Bush responded with a graphic of his own that used Clinton's logo to criticize the growing tax rate.” In this incident, Clinton and Bush used popular social media trends to capture their target audience and grow their social media presence.[7]

Clinton began using social media platform Snapchat to chronicle her campaign across America.[41] One of her videos, where she proclaimed that she was, "Just chillin', in Cedar Rapids", quickly became a meme on video-sharing app Vine.[42]

Ted Cruz campaign[edit]

Twitter activity of Ted Cruz

According to The Guardian, Cruz was "skewered by social media memes". His run for the Presidency was ended by a series of memes, including a viral video of an unusually awkward attempt to shake hands with his running mate Carly Fiorina, which was edited to emphasize his awkwardness in reality. The video was viewed 3.5 million times online. In addition, a mock-conspiracy theory faux-asserted that Cruz was actually the Zodiac Killer, an unidentified serial killer active in northern California from the late 1960s to the early 1970s (humorously, largely before Cruz was even born).[13]

Bernie Sanders campaign[edit]

Twitter activity of Bernie Sanders from his first tweet in November 2010. His Twitter activity increased during his presidential campaign.

Bernie Sander's large spending on Facebook and Instagram ads had attracted a large following of young voters. His online advertising also bolstered his campaign by raising nearly 230 million.[43] His use of language on twitter is more emotional and plain. In one of his post regarding affordable college tuition, he writes, "It's a disgrace that hundred of thousands of bright and qualified young people are unable to afford a higher education. This must end."[44] His twitter posts regarding affordable college tuition gives him more retweets compared to Hillary Clinton.[44][45]

Social media is widely acknowledged to have played a crucial role in the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign. As of May 2016, 450,000 people belong to the Facebook group Bernie Sanders' Dank Meme Stash, one of the several online groups supporting Sanders. Memes were used as the primary means of starting conversational topics in groups such as Bernie Sanders' Dank Meme Stash and Bernie Sanders is my HERO, which were primarily devoted to debating & educating, and praising Bernie whilst pointing out flaws in rival candidates Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, and Hillary Clinton in comical ways. Another group, Bernie or Hillary?, dedicated to creating mock-campaign posters comparing Sanders to Clinton.[13] Sanders supporters who succeeded in closing down a planned Trump rally in Chicago in March 2016 were organized via Facebook.[46]

Bernie or Hillary[edit]

"Bernie or Hillary?",[47][48][49] or "Bernie vs. Hillary",[49][50] was an Internet meme made popular during the 2016 Democratic Party presidential nomination in the United States 2016 presidential election in which Internet users who mostly favored Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton compared the two candidates in faux political posters.

Other candidates[edit]

Gary Johnson campaign[edit]

The humorous Balanced Rebellion video in which "Dead Abe Lincoln" endorses Johnson has been the most widely viewed viral video of any candidate the 2016 campaign.[51] The advertisement shows the many negative aspects of both Hillary and Trump, and states that Johnson will protect our freedoms.[52] Another video that made headlines shows the former New Mexico governor[53] faking a heart attack during a debate on the legalization of marijuana.[54] Johnson also received a 5,000 percent increase in Google searches when Ted Cruz dropped out of the race for the Republican presidential nomination.[55] As a third party candidate, one of Johnson's main focuses was to convince dissatisfied Republicans and Democrats to vote for him. One way to attract more voters was to go to the Democratic National Convention to persuade disheartened Bernie Sanders supporters to vote for him. This method proved to be somewhat effective as Johnson had a surge in online interactions about the former Governor during the two days of the convention, July 26 and 27.[56]

Jill Stein campaign[edit]

Twitter activity of Jill Stein from her first tweet in February 2010 to September 2017. Her Twitter activity increased during her presidential campaign in 2012 and 2016

Jill Stein made extensive use of Twitter for her presidential campaign. She used the social media platform to communicate with Americans before, during, and after the presidential debate at Hofstra University.[57] Stein used her Twitter influence in hopes that it would demonstrate a "changing political landscape" where voters weren't only faced with two options for president.[58] Stein was trending for the first time on Twitter the week of July 20, 2016 and gained 27,000 new followers.[59] Stein also had the same idea as Gary Johnson to sway discouraged Bernie Sanders supporters to vote for her in the election. This led to a boost in online conversation about Stein during the DNC, just as it did with Johnson.[56] After the end of the election, Stein requested a recount in Wisconsin.[60] She used her social media influence to raise millions of dollars for recounts in not only Wisconsin, but also Pennsylvania and Michigan.[61] Stein stated that the reason for the recount was to assure that no hacking of voting machines or voter results occurred.[60]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Sternberg, Josh. "How Local Politicians Are Using Social Media". Mashable. Retrieved 2017-04-12.
  2. ^ "Social media causes some users to rethink their views on an issue". Pew Research Center. 2016-11-07. Retrieved 2017-04-12.
  3. ^ "Election 2016: Campaigns as a Direct Source of News [Pg. 2-3]". Pew Research Center's Journalism Project. 2016-07-18. Retrieved 2017-04-12.
  4. ^ "Ten Ways Social Media Can Improve Campaign Engagement and Reinvigorate American Democracy | Brookings Institution". Brookings. 2017-04-12. Retrieved 2017-04-12.
  5. ^ H.Allcott & M.Gentzkow (2017). Social Media and Fake News in the 2016 election. Journal of Economic Perspectives—Volume 31, Number 2—Spring 2017—Pages 211–236. Retrieved 22 April 2020.
  6. ^ "The Big Issues Of The 2016 Campaign". FiveThirtyEight. 2015-11-19. Retrieved 2017-04-12.
  7. ^ a b Harvey, Kerric. "Did Social Media Ruin Election 2016?". Retrieved 2017-04-12.
  8. ^ Yilek, Caitlin (2016-06-09). "Trump responds to Clinton's 'delete your account' tweet". TheHill. Retrieved 2017-04-12.
  9. ^ "How social platforms influenced the 2016 election". The Verge. 2016-11-14. Retrieved 2017-04-12.
  10. ^ Andrews, Natalie (August 5, 2015). "Candidates Poised to Spread Their Message Through Social Media Ads". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved May 18, 2016.
  11. ^ a b Lang, Marissa (April 5, 2016). "2016 Presidential Election Circus: Is Social Media the Cause?". The Hill. Retrieved May 18, 2016.
  12. ^ Powers, William (February 9, 2016). "Who's Influencing Election 2016?". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved May 18, 2016.
  13. ^ a b c Alexander, Leigh (May 4, 2016). "Blame it on the Zodiac killer: did social media ruin Ted Cruz's campaign?". The Guardian. Retrieved May 18, 2016.
  14. ^ a b c "2016 presidential candidates differ in their use of social media to connect with the public". Pew Research Center's Journalism Project. 2016-07-18. Retrieved 2019-11-21.
  15. ^ Singer, Paul. "Trump took over Twitter with proposed Muslim ban". USA TODAY. Retrieved 2019-11-21.
  16. ^ a b Fehrnstrom, Eric (February 10, 2016). "A punch-drunk Jeb Bush carries on". Boston Globe. Retrieved February 25, 2016.
  17. ^ Richardson, Bradford (August 31, 2015). "Trump rips Bush over 'act of love' remarks on illegal immigration". The Hill. Retrieved February 24, 2016.
  18. ^ Warren, Michael (August 31, 2015). "Trump Hits Jeb on 'Act of Love'". The Weekly Standard. Retrieved February 24, 2016.
  19. ^ Barone, Michael (March 3, 2016). "The five key ingredients of Donald Trump's soaraway success". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved March 23, 2016.
  20. ^ Garafoli, Joe (September 4, 2015). "Trump and Bush attack ads turn Instagram into a battleground". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved February 24, 2016.
  21. ^ "'Great Meme War' Could Hit the Media". The epoch times. 11 November 2016.
  22. ^ ""Daddy, what did you do in 'The Great Meme War'?" Dank memes become part of history". The daily Pakistan. 12 November 2016.
  23. ^ Wallenhorst, Max (28 November 2016). "Rechte Rhetorik im Netz: Der sich selbst erhaltende Hass" [Right rhetoric on the net: self-preserving hatred]. (in German).
  24. ^ "Pizzagate: How a 4Chan conspiracy went mainstream". The new Statesman. 8 December 2016.
  25. ^ Tani, Maxwell (October 20, 2016). "We spoke to a key figure behind the Donald Trump Facebook Live event that fueled speculation about 'Trump TV'". Business Insider. Retrieved October 23, 2016.
  26. ^ Jackson, Jasper (22 November 2016). "Moderators of pro-Trump Reddit group linked to fake news crackdown on posts". The Guardian. Retrieved 25 November 2016.
  27. ^ Herrman, John (April 8, 2016). "Donald Trump Finds Support in Reddit's Unruly Corners". The New York Times.
  28. ^ Koebler, Jason (July 12, 2016). "How r/the_donald Became a Melting Pot of Frustration and Hate". Motherboard. VICE News.
  29. ^ Dicker, Rachel (July 27, 2016). "People Got to Ask Donald Trump Anything – Sort of". U.S. News and World Report.
  30. ^ a b Hess, Amanda (February 18, 2016). "How Trump Wins Twitter". Slate. Retrieved 17 December 2016.
  31. ^ "Full text: Donald Trump's 2016 Republican National Convention Speech". ABC News. 2016-07-22. Retrieved 2016-12-06.
  32. ^ a b Phillips, Amber (2015-12-10). "The surprising genius of Donald Trump's Twitter account". The Washington Post. Retrieved 17 December 2016.
  33. ^ Morin, Rebecca (November 12, 2016). "Trump says social media was key to victory". Poltico. Retrieved 17 December 2016.
  34. ^ "Twitter as arena for the authentic outsider: exploring the social media campaigns of Trump and Clinton in the 2016 US presidential election". doi:10.1177/0267323116682802. hdl:10852/55266. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  35. ^ Mitchell, Holcomb, Weisel (2016-07-18). "Election 2016: Campaigns as a Direct Source of News" (PDF).CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  36. ^ Boxell, Levi; Gentzkow, Matthew; Shapiro, Jesse M. (2018-07-18). "A note on internet use and the 2016 U.S. presidential election outcome". PLOS One. 13 (7): e0199571. Bibcode:2018PLoSO..1399571B. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0199571. ISSN 1932-6203. PMC 6051565. PMID 30020953.
  37. ^ Hampson, Rick (May 12, 2016). "Hillary Clinton, no fan of 'Bernie Bros,' could use their energy vs. Trump". USA Today. Retrieved May 18, 2016.
  38. ^ Lang, Cady (9 June 2016). "Hillary Clinton Tweets 'Delete Your Account' to Donald Trump". Retrieved 9 June 2016.
  39. ^ Victor, Daniel (9 June 2016). "Hillary Clinton to Donald Trump: 'Delete Your Account'". The New York Times. Retrieved 9 June 2016.
  40. ^ PandaWatch (17 July 2016). "Pokemon Go to the Polls" – via YouTube.
  41. ^ Kearly, Kendyl. "Hillary Clinton Got A Snapchat (Finally) & She's Already Sending Silly Snaps To Her Supporters". Retrieved 2016-12-06.
  42. ^ "Hillary Clinton Accidentally Became a Vine Meme". Motherboard. Retrieved 2016-12-06.
  43. ^ "The Facebook candidate: Beto O'Rourke's social media savvy fuels long-shot Ted Cruz challenge". WKYC. Retrieved 2019-11-21.
  44. ^ a b Bernie Sanders [@SenSanders] (2016-03-31). "It's a disgrace that hundred of thousands of bright and qualified young people are unable to afford a higher education. This must end" (Tweet). Retrieved 2019-11-21 – via Twitter.
  45. ^ Hillary Clinton [@HillaryClinton] (2016-04-04). "No student should have to borrow money to pay tuition at a public college. Here's how we can achieve that:" (Tweet). Retrieved 2019-11-21 – via Twitter.
  46. ^ Seitz-Wald, Alex (March 12, 2016). "How Bernie Sanders Supporters Shut Down Donald Trump's Rally in Chicago". MSNBC. Retrieved March 12, 2016.
  47. ^ Ashkinaze, Josh (February 12, 2016). "Politicians Should Embrace Internet Memes". The Oberlin Review. WordPress. Retrieved May 5, 2016.
  48. ^ Lewis, Gabriella (March 20, 2016). "We Asked an Expert if Memes Could Determine the Outcome of the Presidential Election". Vice. Vice Media. Retrieved May 5, 2016.
  49. ^ a b Sanders, Sam (February 5, 2016). "#MemeOfTheWeek: Bernie Or Hillary. Sexist Or Nah?". NPR Politics. NPR. Retrieved May 5, 2016.
  50. ^ Hess, Amanda (February 9, 2016). "The Bernie vs. Hillary meme is weird, ceaseless, and kind of sexist, just like the 2016 campaign". Slate. The Slate Group. Retrieved May 5, 2016.
  51. ^ T.L. Stanley. "Gary Johnson Had the Most Viral Ad of the 2016 Election. Was It All for Nothing?". Adweek. Retrieved 2016-09-10.
  52. ^ "In 'crazy election,' Gary Johnson strives for a spot in presidential debate...: Start Your Search!". Retrieved 2016-12-05.
  53. ^ "Gary Johnson on the Issues". Retrieved 2016-12-05.
  54. ^ "Gary Johnson Heart Attack: Polls Plummet As Video Of Johnson Jokingly Clutching His Chest Surfaces". The Inquisitr News. Retrieved 2016-11-08.
  55. ^ "Gary Johnson Asks You to Google Him". National Review. 13 June 2016. Retrieved 22 April 2020.
  56. ^ a b "Gary Johnson Surges On Social Media — How Do Facebook 'Likes' Turn Into Votes For Libertarian Candidate?". The Inquisitr News. Retrieved 2016-11-08.
  57. ^ "Jill Stein to Participate Real-Time in First Presidential Debate, Using Social Media to Take Her Case Directly to the American People". Jill Stein 2016. Retrieved 2016-11-08.
  58. ^ "Should You Vote for the Green Party?: Start Your Search!". Retrieved 2016-11-08.
  59. ^ "We broke the internet!". Jill Stein 2016. Retrieved 2016-11-08.
  60. ^ a b "Green Party's Stein files recount request in Wisconsin". MPR News. Associated Press. 25 November 2016. Retrieved 22 April 2020.
  61. ^ "The Week: Start Your Search!". Retrieved 2016-12-05.

Further reading[edit]