Social Media & The American Election

yb5phcogpeo-kevin-morrisbanner.jpgSocial media will most definitely influence the outcome of the election. The question is: to what degree? Using the more narrow definition of social media, consisting of solely web-based electronic communications, excludes the influence of television and newspapers. Television programming and newspapers are the main producer of information regarding the election. From televised debates to comedic parody sketches to opinion pieces, Americans turn to news providers to access the opposing parties’ platforms and ideas and informed opinions from experts. So, what role do our digital social medias play in all this?

1uy8uuukids-elliott-stallionFacebook and YouTube may not be producing the information, but social media is the avenue through which many of these articles and video clips are shared and consumed. The double function of social media as a platform for speaking and listening separates it from televised and printed news*. Social media not only provides access to information, but also facilitates a discursive environment in which citizens can engage and discuss the information.

What separates the Democratic and Republican parties from other organizations is the significance of the candidate. While many organizations’ identities are reinforced by their CEO or another representative, almost the entire face of the Democratic and Republican parties has been entrusted to Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. The personal lives and personalities of the electorates has dominated the news, probably more-so than any previous American election. Therefore, the social media of each candidate has been carefully curated so as to portray a specific image.

Social media provides a space where the candidates can engage each other directly, without a mediator. A series of heated arguments occurred between the candidates on Twitter. The exchange below received a lot of media attention:

So, to what degree do social media actually influence the outcome? One could argue that if social media didn’t exist, the same discussions would be occurring in physical communities as opposed to cyberspace. Physical communities are limited by space and are therefore more limited than digital communities. However, the ego-driven nature of personal social media usage means that many individuals are often simply looking for social proof. Most users limit their feeds to sources that they already agree with. So, communities on social media are even more funneled than physical communities, often showing less diversity of opinion. Therefore, the outcome of the election is likely to be the same with or without social media. Social media, however, has completely altered the method of sourcing and discussing information.

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*Online news sources could be described as a digital social media due to the commenting features. Interestingly, many of the commenting functions on news provider websites are integrated with Facebook and other social media, thus reinforcing the organization’s intricate cross-platform network of social media. This is common practice for organizations, creating what Professor Friesen calls a “web-wall of media exposure.”

All images are CC0 and have been borrowed from WikiMedia Commons, Flikr, and Unsplash.

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