The Twitter Battle: Does Anyone Win in a Social Media Election?

An almost constant barrage of notifications keeps phones pinging and buzzing. People continuously scroll through miles and miles of virtual content, just trying to keep up with their friends and the world. Social media is certainly one of the main aspects of our lives, from checking tweets, to posting on Instagram, and keeping up on Snapchat. Its usage isn’t just restricted to personal life. Businesses have created several social media accounts to advertise themselves, and in recent years, politicians have adopted a similar tactic, most notably with the 2016 election between Trump and Clinton. Because of the increased amount of time people generally spend looking at their phones, social media outlets become a convenient source for news and political updates straight from the candidates themselves.

The question is, how much of this information is really accurate? Sometimes, it is exactly this lack of accuracy that grabs the attention of the public and draws them into the election campaigns.

Because social media platforms are available to everyone, it makes it a convenient method to get political messages to a vast audience. The average person spends about two hours a day on social media. With the amount of time people spend on their devices, they are bound to come across politically-related information, especially when politicians are starting to incorporate social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat, into their campaign. While Ted Cruz was livestreaming his appearances, Marco Rubio was posting updates on Snapchat stories. This method of updating followers allows for a “closer” interaction, as supporters don’t necessarily need to attend rallies or debates to listen to speeches. Because social media is mainly free-to-use, politicians are able to gain a much wider reach without having to spend millions of dollars for television advertisements for the same amount of attention.

Younger generations are also more reliant on social media for getting news and information. The diversification of interactions with the general population allows for more people to get involved, especially millennials. The information spread through the mediums sparks conversations between individuals and creates an election where the younger generations have a say.

Public images are generally easier to create when there are no budget restrictions. With television advertisements, politicians are restricted to short thirty-second bursts to convey their messages and show what kind of leader they are or plan to be, giving off a formal or friendlier tone. On the contrary, there are no restrictions on social media, where anyone can post on a whim and develop their image over the span of several posts and extend the attitude to voter and candidate interactions. Posts may not be thought out as well as campaign advertisements simply because there is no limit to how much one can post.

The main contrast of public image can be seen between the two elected representatives of the political parties: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Trump is generally known to be more aggressive, as seen with his tweets, while Clinton develops more of a formal image. The extreme contrast draws in the attention of voters, wanting to watch Trump go off on tangents or Clinton try to defend herself against varying accusations. In the more recent elections, it seems like more emphasis is placed on how much attention a candidate can get, rather than the validity of their statements or the practicality of their policies.

However, more attention is gained when politicians slip up, both in public and online. When it comes to debates, people typically enjoy watching the back-and-forth banter of those who are assumed to act professional, such as with the Twitter “conversation” between Clinton and Bush. Despite the fact that these may not be coming directly from the candidates, they are still posted on their representatives’ accounts.

Part of a Twitter battle between Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush

Even when the fiasco does not stem from the online realm, the media assists in spreading the word, as seen with the amount of attention brought up with the Clinton health scandal. Although these events bring bad press to the candidates who are trying to establish their credibility and prove to the nation why they are the most suitable to become the next president, it inadvertently also brings more attention to the campaigns.

While this information can be spread through news and social media sources, it can also be passed on by word-of-mouth. However, when the information about events is passed on just by posting about it on Facebook or Twitter, political bias can slip through and distort the details of the event. This leads to an increased gap between the two parties, causing more of an argument about why the other candidate is worse rather than a discussion about the merits of each candidate. In these heated arguments, it is easy to lose track of what the main idea is and to start attacking whatever aspect of the candidate they can find.

Often times, emotions, personal preferences, and political loyalties get in the way of deciding what is best for the nation and distorts the images of political candidates. At times, when I scroll through Facebook, liking the typical food and technology posts, I come across a politically charged post that one of my friends has commented on or liked. Just by looking at the source of the post and the title of the article, I can tell that it is going to be either overly conservative or liberal and that the exaggerations that may be brought up will be a source of controversy within the comments section. Against my common sense, I have scrolled through the comments, knowing that there are going to be paragraphs stating extreme support or opposition, soon followed by equally extreme responses. I found some statements that were a stretch from what I saw to be the intentions of the presidential candidate. Even after the elections have ended, I find the occasional political post about Trump’s current policies with the typical argument between “This is the best thing to happen to the country” and “He’s going to ruin the country.”

Social media can be seen as an essential tool for politicians to connect with their audience. It allows for them to widen their reach and make their events available for anyone who is interested. Because social media is free for anyone to use, this makes it a cheap and efficient way for candidates to establish their image over the span of several posts made throughout the campaign. Even when it is not intentionally used by the politicians to gain publicity, it is used as a tool to spread news about controversies.

Regardless of what kind of press the politician receives, the election gains more attention and draws people in to see what has people talking and fighting. When Trump tweets, there is no doubt that he gets all the attention he wants and he establishes his image. When a Clinton-related scandal arises, people pay attention to see how she defends herself. Social media, although a powerful tool for candidates to connect with their audience, is only effective when posts are thought out, rather than done on an impulse. Emotionally-charged posts show passion towards a cause, but also alienate supporters and cause the widening of rifts between political parties. Distrust between parties does nothing to help the nation and makes the nation unprepared for international affairs. Even though politics seems to be taking the route towards a competition to who can grab more attention rather than who is the better leader, the use of technology designed to connect populations and spread information is only effective in a political election when it is used to discuss policies, rather than to attack.