Year One: How Donald Trump Used Social Media to Win (and Maintain) the Presidency

Donald Trumpon on July 21, 2016 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. | Source: Biography/Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Donald Trump is not just the President of the United States. He is a strategic businessman, and most importantly, a performer.

Having the personality and desire to be the centre of attention, Trump was quick to understand the importance of social media and the impact that it has on today’s society. Combining the various fears that many Americans had about unemployment rates, and healthcare with social media, Trump was able to produce a powerful leverage over his candidates when he decided to enter the world of politics.

From the beginning of his Presidential campaign to the present day, Trump has always understood the power that social media can bestow upon a person. He was able to win Americans over with his unfiltered, unapologetic, and controversial opinions and the ability to get instant reactions to these comments by simply putting a Tweet out. He strategically avoided traditional campaign approaches of speaking to the press and setting up interviews as he knew that social media would give him direct connection with those he was trying to appeal to. Removing the media from the equation meant removing, as Trump likes to call it, the “fake news”.

There is no denial that in recent years the usage of social media has dramatically increased with no signs of slowing down at all. Social media has provided an open environment for everyone to speak their minds, share and repost instantaneously. Trump has been able to win and maintain his Presidency through sharing his opinions, morals, and campaign promises through as little as 140 (now 280) characters with these posts being shared, agreed upon, and criticized at an alarming rate. Whatever Trump tweets out — ranging from travel bans to building a wall — many people are quick to support and rally behind him. Trump has been able to collect such passionate supporters as he has connected with them on an emotional level. Social media has become Trump’s platform in order to allow him to use his comments to stir the fear, and anger that many Americans have held within themselves.

Social media — specifically Twitter and Facebook — has played such an important role in Trump’s upset win for the Presidency that even his digital director Brad Parscale had to give the social media giants a shoutout.

“Facebook and Twitter were the reason we won this thing.” — Brad Parscale

The algorithms that have been implemented into these platforms have allowed these sites to become gathering places for those who are likeminded. Facebook would never dare show a Republican or Trump supporter the multiple posts that were made fact-checking him or reactions to his comments about “grabbing [women] by p*ssy” because simply, people did not want to interact with what they disagreed with. Instead, those who believed in Trump’s promises about “Making American Great Again” and Clinton conspiracies were likely to see multiple posts on their newsfeed and timelines agreeing with their beliefs therefore feeding their ideology and trust in Trump.

It is not shocking that when looking at the statistics of Trump’s win, a majority of those who voted for him were older, well-off, white men. As stated by Newsweek Trump’s voters main concerned that they believed would be handled by the former Apprentice host was immigration. Trump was able to connect with this demographic of voters through his exaggerated claims through social media that he would be building a wall on the Mexican border to stop illegal immigration into the US. Analysts that spoke with Newsweek explained that Trump’s social media posts of campaign promises were “successful among white voters is partly attributable to his tapping into concerns about immigration and a feeling among many voters that the U.S. should be a white, Christian country. A person can strongly identify with their nation but not along ethnic lines.” Allyson Shortle, assistant professor of political science at the University of Oklahoma said:

“It’s like everything he said hit the right nationalistic buttons[…]It’s important to note that racism and nationalism are these related but distinct components.”

Through social media Trump, according to Richard Wilson, Trump was able to “cross the line from populist to demagogue”. The rise of Trump and Trump’s America has also allowed for those who are looking to fix the wounds that he has caused to rise in prominence as well. If Trump and the effect he has had since his political entry is one extremity, the other can be the massive following that multiple other influencers have garnered in order to not only combat Trump but create positive change. In recent years, thanks to social media, there has been an influx of people becoming more socially aware of world issues. There has been the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, Colin Kaepernick’s demonstration against police brutality, the fall of Harvey Weinstein and the rise of #Time’sUp. The personas of demagogues and reconcilers have been given a place to flourish thanks to social media — making them two sides of the same coin.

In recent events, Oprah Winfrey provided a powerful and inspirational speech at the 2018 Golden Globe Awards as she accepted the Cecile B. DeMille Award. Winfrey has always been a leader at the forefront for positive change — calling for better representation for the black community in media and providing education to girl’s in other countries — so naturally her speech caused quite a stir on social media with people calling her to run for the Presidency in 2020.While Winfrey has since denied the claims that she would be running against Trump in the 2020 elections, it does bring interesting points to mind about the power social media has. Having a celebrity with no political experience run the world’s most influential country is no longer surprising but instead now welcome.

Oprah Winfrey at 2018 Golden Globe Awards | Source: Vox/NBCUniversal/Getty Images

However, if someone with Trump or Winfrey’s ability to sway a crowd and create social media firestorms those who are looking to support these individuals must go beyond simple posts. There is no denying that, as previously stated above, people have become more socially aware therefore going out onto the streets and being apart of multiple movements and demonstrations. These demonstrations and movements must continue to persist on social media and manifest themselves in the real world in order to see positive change in today’s current climate.

According to The Cultureist infographic in 2013, 500 million people log into Facebook every day and 175 million tweets are sent daily. With this many people on the world’s biggest influencer sites, Hashtag Activism must continue to transcend the realm of social media into real-world change. This is without a doubt a struggle for those looking for change to accomplish, as Trump has built his empire upon dormant perspectives of race, immigration, and gender that has laid the foundations of America since its formation instead of looking to dismantle systems and social structures to rebuild into a inclusive environment.

The biggest factor in the election’s outcome was Twitter and Facebook as a platforms. Trump was willing to break traditional models of campaigning using these platforms to provide himself a leverage in the media landscape.Those who are looking to oppose him in the future must understand the power social media has, how Trump was able to use it to his advantage, and make it their own in order to put an end to Trump’s reign.

Sources:

Gidda, Mirren. “How Donald Trump’s Nationalism Won over White Americans.” Newsweek, 15 Nov. 2016, 
<www.newsweek.com/donald-trump-nationalism-racism-make-america-great-again-521083.>

Khan-Ibarra, Sabina. “The Case For Social Media and Hashtag Activism.” Huffington Post, 13 Jan. 2015, 
<www.huffingtonpost.com/sabina-khanibarra/the-case-for-social-media_b_6149974.html.>

Lapowsky, Issie. “This Is How Facebook Actually Won Trump the Presidency.” Wired, Conde Nast, 3 June 2017, 
<www.wired.com/2016/11/facebook-won-trump-election-not-just-fake-news/.>

Stewart, Emily. “Oprah 2020, Explained.” Vox, Vox, 9 Jan. 2018, <www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2018/1/9/16868252/oprah-2020-president-explained.>

Truong, Peggy. “You’Ll Want to Read Every Word of Oprah Winfrey’s Cecil B. DeMille Speech at the 2018 Golden Globes.” Cosmopolitan, 7 Jan. 2018, <www.cosmopolitan.com/entertainment/tv/a14776211/oprah-winfrey-2018-golden-globes-speech-transcript/.>

Wilson, Richard Ashby. “Demagogues in History: Why Trump Emphasizes Emotion over Facts.” The Conversation, 28 Jan. 2018, <theconversation.com/demagogues-in-history-why-trump-emphasizes-emotion-over-facts-53082.>