Opinion: Social media forever changes the campaign process


Ben VanHoose Headshot

Benjamin VanHoose

If this election year had a cheesy politician’s slogan, it would likely read, “2016: A Campaign Season Like No Other.”

That’s because this time around, with the advent of social media, candidates have an entirely new set of tools to utilize. It’s in this uncharted territory that “likes,” “shares” and posts can either translate to votes or widespread disapproval for the presidential hopefuls.

Although this certainly isn’t the first time social networking has played a part in electing a president—Barack Obama put his web presence to good use in 2008—it is a completely different landscape.

In 2008, the number of active Facebook users was about 100 million, a figure dwarfed by the now 1.65 billion users in 2016.

Combine that with Twitter’s 310 million users and Instagram’s 500 million members, and political campaign teams have easier access to more potential voters than ever before.

But just because the internet is ripe for the picking doesn’t mean candidates quite know how to use it perfectly. Yet.

Any publicity is good publicity

Republican frontrunner Donald Trump serves as the prime case study for the ups and downs of social media activity. The real estate tycoon’s 9.21 million Twitter followers and 8.4 million total Facebook page likes illustrate his ability to amass a following of supporters online.

It’s the content of his posts that seem to get him in trouble.

Whether it’s a post calling FOX News anchor Megyn Kelly crazy, or one professing his love for Hispanics on Cinco de Mayo, Trump’s tweets often err on the side of controversy.

Like it or not, though, Trump’s posts land him in headlines, gaining more fans (and haters) with each reaction article published.

On the other hand, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate, is taking more of a reserved approach to social media.

Rather than posting incendiary or provocative comments, Clinton stands to the side to allow others in the race to release divisive content so as not to turn away precious voters. 

At 7.04 million Twitter followers, Clinton also doesn’t receive the same amount of attention for her web activity.

Her most well-known tweet actually came in response to one of Trump’s. Following Obama’s official endorsement of Clinton, Trump took to Twitter to voice his disapproval:

“Obama just endorsed Crooked Hillary. He wants four more years of Obama—but nobody else does!”

The tweet has garnered nearly 83,000 favorites. 

Clinton soon after replied to the tweet, saying only, “Delete your account.”

Her post has since received more than 600,000 favorites.

Surely neither candidate will be deleting any social media accounts anytime soon.

They’re always watching

While content released to the public by a candidate’s choosing is one thing, what’s released without a final say-so is an entirely different game. With modern technology, everyone has a camera in their pocket to capture any event to share with the rest of the world via the internet. 

This instant communication is helpful when footage of a candidate’s speech can go viral on YouTube or an exclusive interview rakes in ratings. But it’s those moments the PR teams don’t want the world to see that lift the political facade.

Take violence inside and outside Trump rallies, for example.

Video of every scuffle and every brawl can be streamed from dozens of angles online thanks to amateur eyewitnesses. 

The concealable camera also allows average citizens to watch events they normally wouldn’t have access to. Millions viewed a protester yelling at Clinton during a fundraiser, demanding that she address racial statements she’s made decades before.

These caught-on-tape instances give viewers unfiltered material to judge however they please—an ability not afforded to heavily calculated campaign ads and scripted video content. 

These clips were not paid for by the candidates, and the voting body is better off.