A social media election, for better or worse

It's an understatement to say social media helped set the tone of this historic election.

Once upon a time there was no Internet, there were no cellphones, no Whatsapp and so on: first it was pamphlets, newspapers, radio, television.

Advances in technology have played a vital role in everyday life, in this case shaping presidential elections, defining how voters view the candidates and the issues.


It's an understatement to say social media helped set the tone of this historic election. 

We were naive. 

And then.

We've assumed that the most mocked candidate by social media could not become the President of the most important Western state.

We’ve thought that, at the end of the day, a living meme could not pick up votes (so many votes, actually!).

We’ve treated polls like weather forecasts. Believing in them.

But… we’ve learnt that opinion polls don’t always tell the whole story: the margin of error is like fishing with a net; somewhere in this net you can find the true figure.

This is not the whole story either.


As communication experts, we’d like to investigate, if in some way this result was driven or readable thorough social media, the great pool of global moods, since 2009, circa.

Let's focus on the Election Day: during that time, millions of people shared their views on social - a level of interaction that destroyed existing records for political discussion.

Twitter affirmed that more than 75 million tweets related to the election had been sent by the moment Trump claimed victory: that's far more than the 31 million messages sent on Election Day in 2012. More than 115 million people discussed the election on Facebook, generating more than 716 million likes, posts, comments and shares related to the vote.

But how did the candidates behave on social media during the whole campaign (which in the words of the winner was "nasty and it was tough")?

Both have incredibly strong social presences. 

Trump has, in this very moment, 14.710.027 fan on Facebook, while Clinton 9.453.913; on Twitter, we’re talking about 14,1 millions followers for the tycoon and and 10,8 millions for the ex First Lady; and so on. According to this article “Trump and Clinton’s social followings equate to 12% and 9% of the eligible US electorate respectively. In other words, even if you took out everyone who won’t be able or willing to vote on 8th November (not the 28th), social data still reflects a wider proportion of the electorate than a typical opinion poll sample of a thousand people.” 


The result is that social data have predicted the victory of Mister Trump, which was miles ahead in this demanding challenge.


In addiction, in unsuspected times, an AI system that correctly predicted the last three US presidential elections puts Donald Trump as winner: this tool takes in 20 million data points from public platforms including Google, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube in the US and then analyzes the information to create predictions. 

These AI, MogIA, provides a method for inquiring how, what people say and think reflects, and at the end even affects vote intentions.

Some examples: data such as engagement with tweets or Facebook Live videos have been taken into account. The result is that Trump has overtaken the engagement numbers of Barack Obama's peak in 2008 by 25%. One of the areas where Trump particularly excels is video: the tycoon has a significant lead in video engagement, look here:

Plus: Trump practically ran his campaign on Twitter, forcing rivals to respond to his 140-character attacks (until his aides reportedly pulled the plug on unsupervised tweeting). 

We cannot say, for sure, that his conduct has been exemplary.

Not to mention the star parade, which, always on social media, have condemned the candidate with the most weird hair : Madonna, Robert De Niro, Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Moby, and many many others…


Donald Trump has effectively made social media the cornerstone of his campaign, he has provided them with a continuous stream. He's actually like the common Facebook user, the one who sometimes writes something inappropriate, something wrong, something against someone: this was and actually is his force. He looks genuine in compare with Hillary's affectations. She is smarter, classy, prepared, with a wonky CV. 

The question is: is she even real? 

Trump, like it or not, he’s very authentic. He says what he thinks: no consultant is going to be telling him to say that stuff. Twitter has worked better for Trump at getting his message out than a paid publicist, he used it to kind of fulfill that improper need to constantly be able to speak to his people, his followers, his fans, his enemies.

Clinton’s social media was just as scripted as a book. It was filtered. She has a more cautious approach to reaching voters online. This strategy, too strategic maybe, was a failure: not everyone is a living commercial like Barack Obama.



(At the lowest level of conversation and reasoning, let me say: for a candidate who speaks like an ordinary person to ordinary people, often emphasizing his lower instincts like "You know, I'm only human after all", there's another one who forgives a huge betrayal in the name of a greater good.)

So, what we know so far:

  • Social media has essentially changed the relationship between politicians and voters;
  • Using social media to predict outcomes of elections has become increasingly popular because of the amount of data available publicly;
  • The number of fans and followers still matters;
  • Social media is the main source of informations for a lot of people;
  • People, when they have access to information on social media, really feel like they are equipped to interpret reality, life, politics and they don’t need a deeper knowledge with traditional media to tell them what to think.

The result is that, in any case, social media wasn't read carefully nor given due prominence, otherwise we wouldn't be that speechless. A meme could be a President, as long as he looks natural. Even in the worst way possible.


(image credit: Chris Piascik)


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