For a while, one of the most talked about moments of the 2016 Presidential campaign was the infamous “Delete your account” incident. Donald Trump took to Twitter to attack both Hillary Clinton and President Obama, as he has throughout his campaign, and Hillary told him to delete his Twitter account. Trump then responded by alluding to the e-mails deleted from Clinton’s private server.
It was a simple exchange, but it caused a frenzy among both Clinton and Trump supporters, mainly because it was the first time, however brief, that two Presidential candidates had engaged in a Twitter war.
Social media has been a huge part of this election cycle. Both candidates have used it extensively to rally their supporters and criticize one another’s policies. But it can also be a double edged sword. Let’s take a closer look at just what it means to run for President in the age of social media.
Social Media as a Positive Force
From a non-partisan point of view, social media is an extremely helpful tool for both candidates. Facebook in particular has provided tons of encouragement for people to vote. This includes links to register if you’re not already and to find out where your local polling place is, reminders of when early voting begins and ends in the user’s area, and an invitation to share your intention to vote with all of your friends and followers, so that they can be reminded to do the same. There’s no pressure to vote one way or the other, but merely a call to action for everyone, particularly young people, to do their patriotic duty.
Additionally, social media provides a myriad of opportunities for the candidates to garner support by extending their reach as far as possible. Both Trump and Clinton not only post extensively on social media themselves, but also have influential supporters who post on their behalf: politicians, celebrities, and more.
Even if you don’t directly follow either candidate’s social media accounts, you’re still likely to see endorsements from people you respect and admire. This often includes links to articles, videos, statistics, and other information and analysis in support of that candidate. And those are in turn reposted and retweeted by your friends and family and others in your social circles, adding to their credibility. So for either candidate, social media is a perfect way both to spread important information and gain credibility among their supporters.
Social Media as a Negative Force
There are two sides to the coin, however. While social media provides an opportunity for supporters to endorse their chosen candidate, it also lets them do it without the campaign’s knowledge or consent.
This can lead an over-zealous but misguided supporter to say things that actually hurt the campaign, rather than help it. For instance, recently a troll released a series of faux campaign posters for Clinton, which claimed that voters could “avoid the lines” at the polls by texting their vote for Hillary from home. The purpose was to disenfranchise Clinton supporters and keep them from actually voting.
The Trump campaign had no knowledge of this stunt, nor did they encourage or endorse it in any way, but for many, it still reflects poorly on them. People, whether consciously or subconsciously, tend to consider anything connected with a particular candidate as personally endorsed by the candidate themselves, whether it is or not.
Social media allows for the dissemination of misinformation and slander, and gives it exactly the same weight as the truth. A keen eye can generally spot and fact-check these lies fairly quickly, but most people simply don’t take the time to do it. Confirmation bias lets them think anything supporting a cause they already agree with must automatically be true. They believe it, they share it, and it often does serious damage to the candidate.
For good or for ill, social media has become an integral part of the Presidential campaign process. It can be beneficial or detrimental, but either way, it’s here to stay. The best candidates are ones who can use it to their advantage.