In the US, new media have long been known to turn the tide of presidential races. In the 1930s, radio was as a tool that Franklin D. Roosevelt used masterfully to speak to Americans in their homes and assure his place as president. John F. Kennedy became president in 1960 because he used the new medium of television to literally show the masses that he looked presidential.
In 2016, we cannot ignore the use of social media’s role in this presidential campaign. According to The Daily Mail, “One in five people report changing their views on a political or social issue because of something they read on social media, and nearly the same amount say they changed their views about a specific candidate based on what they read there.”
One in five is a huge number in a political race that had a photo finish, Trump losing the popular vote, but winning in the electoral college. Donald Trump’s digital director Brad Parscale told wired.com that “Facebook and Twitter were the reason we won this thing,” While Andrew Bleeker, who helped lead Hillary Clinton’s digital marketing efforts, told the same publication that the Trump campaign “spent a higher percentage of their spending on digital than we did.”
But it is worth noting how Trump used social media in not so presidential ways to seize his victory.
Fake News on Facebook
While social media may have been the tool Trump used to win the US presidential election, fake news and bullying were the nails that sealed his win. Lies about when election day was and fake news promoting Trump ran wild on social media days and hours before the election results were in, notably the most crucial time in such a tight presidential election.
A mayor posted a message with an incorrect date for Election Day. Jefferson Riley, the Republican mayor of Mansfield, Ga., posted a message on his Facebook page, “Remember the voting days: Republicans vote on Tuesday, 11/8 and Democrats vote on Wednesday, 11/9”.
Many intentionally inaccurate memes and fake news posts came from people on the far-right side of the U.S. political process, called the “alt-right”. The Guardian reports that these alt-right content creators “cook[ed] up stories on boards such as 8chan, 4chan and social media, and are then co-opted either by genuine right-leaning sites or shill sites, and are then shared again on social media”.
Furthermore, and almost unbelievably if it weren’t actually true, hundreds of fake, pro-Trump, news sites run by teenagers in Macedonia, looking to make money per clicks, had a very real U.S. Facebook following and impact on the vote. And these are just some on the examples of how fake news infiltrated America’s social media stream.
The co-founder and CEO of Facebook came under fire for Facebook allowing fake news to infiltrate the feed of millions of Americans. In response, Mark Zuckerberg wrote, “Of all the content on Facebook, more than 99% of what people see is authentic […] Only a very small amount is fake news and hoaxes”. He concluded that “Overall, this makes it extremely unlikely hoaxes changed the outcome of this election in one direction or the other”.
But when that 1% that are hoaxes, go viral, it’s a whole other story, especially when it means that the presidential office is at stake.
But fake news was not the only nefarious avenue to Trump’s win. Twitter bullying played a big role in Trump’s rise. The Daily Mail reports that Trump’s “perceived dexterity [on Twitter] led some to declare him the best on social media and winner of the social media war.”
But the presidential election cycle was not a social media war. It played out more like an after school beat down with Trump being the biggest bully and Twitter being the perfect playground. International Business Insider reports that “the divisive election between Hillary Clinton and President-elect Donald Trump appears to have only escalated the tension and abuse online. Many journalists, public figures and random users have been subjected to abuse as a result of tweets about the election.”
Trump employed several bullying tactics to clinch the vote. He used name calling. Trump tweeted, “@FrankLuntz is a low class slob who came to my office looking for consulting work and I had zero interest. Now he picks anti-Trump panels!”
He bashed people’s appearances. Trump Tweeted, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” it featured a photo of Cruz’s wife with her face contorted in a strange position, next to a picture of his own wife Photoshopped and in full make up.
And Trump attacked anyone who questions him, even if it is his or her job to do so. Trump tweeted, “Everybody should boycott the @megynkelly show. Never worth watching. Always a hit on Trump! She is sick, & the most overrated person on tv.
According to Vox.com, “Sixty percent of Trump’s top-used adjectives are negative in sentiment. While his positive words are about as basic as you can get (“good,” “great,” “nice”), his lexicon quadruples when throwing shade.”
But somehow this childish bullying seemed to work on a platform such as Twitter. The Daily Mail reported, “Trump would receive nearly double the number of Twitter mentions as Hillary Clinton each day, even though (or maybe because) his messages were much more negative”.
Executives at Twitter are reportedly working to fix the problem they have with bullying Tweets, post elections.
As the world wonders, what happened in the US presidential election, it is worth looking to new media and how each candidate used it to see how the race was won, how low the next race could go, and how can we get back to a professional conduct in American politics.