The war might still be undecided, but the battle continues in the world of the web

CALIFORNIA, U.S. - Social media has taken center stage in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, reaching out to people of all ages. "Most young people now do not get their information ...


• Social media's impact on U.S. elections reaches unprecedented level

• Social media takes center stage, candidates go all out to woo voters ahead of election day

• Massive rise in hate speech on Twitter; Despite the buzz, Twitter doesn’t generate cash

CALIFORNIA, U.S. - Social media has taken center stage in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, reaching out to people of all ages.

"Most young people now do not get their information or their news or from television or from newspapers. They get it from social media," U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders had said early on in his campaign. 

And he sure was right.

It's played a pivotal role in influencing and presenting campaigns and candidates to voters, in addition to drawing people to rallies on both sides by the thousands, and possibly sending a record number of people to cast a ballot – that's the extent of its impact.

Interestingly, there's a page on Wikipedia solely dedicated to social media’s role in the United States presidential election.

Earlier this year, a survey of U.S. adults showed that 44 percent reported having learnt about the presidential election from social media.

Nearly half of U.S. adults turned to social media to obtain knowledge about their country’s election. 

It is hardly surprising, therefore, that the 2016 election has been dubbed as ‘the first true social media election.’

Facebook, especially, has driven people to the polls with an intense online effort to get people out to vote. 

The world’s largest social media platform placed a reminder at the top of user’s news feed, 18 years and over, in 32 states. 

And with both candidates using social media enthusiastically, some of the most memorable moments of the campaign for the White House have played out on Twitter. 

Trump's frequent tweeting of tirades against Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, fellow Republicans and the media have been a mainstay of the campaign, setting off furious online debate.

This, however, isn't the first time social media was used tactically during a U.S. election. 

Barack Obama is widely acknowledged as the first presidential candidate to harness the power of social media, ploughing $47 million into digital ad spend, ten times the amount of Republican rival Mitt Romney.

New highs - New records

According to a Pew Research study, about one-third of social media users indicate they often (9 percent) or sometimes (23 percent) comment, discuss or post about government and politics on social media.

On YouTube alone, users have spent over 20 million hours watching the presidential debate live streams.

How Twitter bots are shaping the election

All these numbers - social media followings, polls, or statistics - are only as viable as the tools used to get to them. 

Political campaigns worldwide now use bots, software developed to automatically do tasks online, as a means for gaming online polls and artificially inflating social-media traffic. 

Recent analysis by a research team at Oxford University reveals that more than a third of pro-Trump tweets and nearly a fifth of pro-Clinton tweets between the first and second debates came from automated accounts, which produced more than 1 million tweets in total. 

This data corroborates recent reports suggesting that both candidates’ social media followings are highly automated.

Twitter buzz doesn't translate into cash

The election, despite all the online buzz, has had "no noticeable impact" on Twitter's user growth, which analysts say is essential for boosting revenue. 

Campaigns and political organisations said Twitter is simply not a great medium for political advertising.

It is not as effective as rival Facebook at targeting crucial independent voters, and high-profile Twitter users like Trump and Clinton can use it to make their view known without having to buy any advertising.

Twitter is the “place to be for obsessively tracking the minute-to-minute of this election” but “Facebook is a much purer platform for message dissemination and talking about the issues voters care about.”

Election night

BuzzFeed has signed a deal with Twitter to live stream an election special on the platform, with BuzzFeed News reporters on hand to dissect incoming results and along with the night’s biggest developments.

Unlike the Facebook Live payment arrangement, Twitter and BuzzFeed will share in advertising revenue for the event, according to a Twitter spokesman.

Twitter, a favorite among political news junkies, has also live streamed this campaign's political conventions and presidential debates through partnerships with CBS News and Bloomberg, respectively.

Nasty hashtags

With this U.S. election playing out on social media just as much as it has on television, several popular hashtags have left their mark.

#Nastywoman started trending when Trump called Clinton "nasty woman" during the third and final presidential debate, and the insult became an instant internet meme.

#Repealthe19th became popular after political polling agency FiveThirtyEight published an electoral map showing what the election could look like if only men voted. The hashtag that took off was one calling for the repeal of the 19th Amendment, which gave American women the right to vote in 1920.

Other popular hashtags were #TellAmericaitsgreat, which was in response to Trump's campaign slogan, "Make America great again." #Lockherup was a common chant at Trump rallies and a popular hashtag among his supporters, who've taken to Twitter to provide the many reasons they believe Clinton belongs in jail rather than the White House. 

Another one is #Muslimsreportstuff, which began trending after Trump asked Muslims during the second debate to "report when they see something going on." 

Hate speech

Hate speech that was earlier limited to the dark recesses of the Internet bubbled into the mainstream and onto Twitter, especially from Trump supporters. A report last month from The Anti-Defamation League documented the rise in anti-Semitic tweets targeting journalists who covered the Republican presidential candidate.

Words that appeared frequently in the profiles of these Twitter accounts were Trump, nationalist, conservative, white. 

The volatile election campaign had clearly fanned the flames of racism, xenophobia, homophobia, sexism and bigotry.

Stress and the elections

Meanwhile, stress levels in the United States also increased thanks to the election. A recent survey by the American Psychological Association showed 52 percent of adults identified the election as a significant source of stress. Those who regularly uses social media were more likely to experience election-related anxiety.

But don't stress over this - What happens to @POTUS once the Barack Obama's presidency ends, for a plan is in place to bring about a smooth transition of social media power.

The White House has stated that it will collect all of the @POTUS tweets and place them under a new Twitter handle, @POTUS44, allowing the next president to claim the current Obama handle and the precious followers that come with it.

Embarrassing social media gaffes

This US election has seen social media overselling any virtue, flaw or gaffe of each candidate. Both Trump and Clinton committed several embarrassing mistakes through their social media accounts.

Trump literally published a photoshopped image of the American flag, and the White house, some dollars, his face, and five soldiers on it. Then someone noticed that the soldiers were wearing Nazi outfits. This created a huge controversy that Trump handled in the way he does best: the post was deleted and his campaign members said the image was posted by an intern.

Trump also made fun of Iowans' intelligence on Twitter in 2015, which once again he later blamed on guess who? Yes an intern -- no surprises there.

Hillary too has had her share of goof ups. Hillary Clinton wanted to pay tribute to important civil rights movement figure Rosa Parks on her social media by putting her on the campaign logo, but things went too far and the tribute ended up being an insult to Parks' heroism, since she was seated at the back of an H-shaped bus, which is Clinton´s logo. 

Gaffes and blooper aside, both presidential candidates will be hoping they have taken advantage of social media and got their message across to the people, helping them to make their way to The White House.

 

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