It was Twitter wot won it

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9 November 2016 | 0

Niall Kitson portraitEvery election since Barack Obama’s successful US presidential bid in 2008 has been hailed a victory for social media. I’m not seeing the same argument being made for President-elect Donald J Trump today but that fits his narrative of the mainstream media being against him just fine. But if the press was against him, was it Twitter wot won it for him?

It’s doubtful Trump’s Twitter audience did more than provide a rallying point for his supporters or cheap thrills for fans of social media fails. According to an article in Wired, the Trump campaign was bolstered by an army of 400,000 social bots (about 15% of users discussing the election at any one time), keeping his message trending.

So what of Hillary Clinton’s famous argument that Trump shouldn’t be elected because he could be “baited with a tweet”? That, too, was immaterial on polling day. The Blue Wall separating Red and Blue states crumbled under the weight of grievances from white voters disenchanted with the political elite, the media and a system rigged against their attaining the American Dream.

What we can learn from the Twitter bubble this time around isn’t new or illuminating. Twitter is a happy hunting ground for religious extremists, conspiracy theorists, fake news hucksters, hate groups, and the offenderati. It runs on outrage and conflict – something the Trump camp served up daily. The Clinton campaign fought ire with intellect in a troll’s playground. They went high in a forum that loves to point and laugh at the ridiculousness of the ‘other’. Sad.

You also have to look at the lack of actual debate that took place on the social channels. Split along partisan lines, netizens can build their own echochambers and broadcasting their opinions expecting little challenge and a little positive enforcement in the form of a like or retweet. This is what happens when social networks become unsocial. People build safe spaces and peak out once in a while to @ message a celebrity they know won’t respond or to pledge their allegiance to their cause du jour. #makepoliticsgreatagain.

One forum I haven’t heard much about this cycle is Facebook, where the Clinton campaign excelled in its use of video. The Democrats played a fine, structured ground game but failed to connect with millennials on the visceral level Trump did with his core constituency of disaffected white voters on Twitter. It made for good TV but didn’t prove much of a vote winner. Clinton won with young voters but their depressed turnout meant they weren’t the same force they were for Obama in 2012.

The question now is will Trump put as much effort into governing by Twitter as he had campaigning with it? One hopes his handlers will manage to rein him in but don’t be surprised if you see him up at 3am bad mouthing congress.

An election decided on social media? Not even close.

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