Twitter was more key than ever in 2016’s U.S. election campaign

Donald Trump’s campaign began with a tweet.

Everyone remembers the speech he gave on June 16, 2015 – you know, the one where he called Mexicans “rapists” and “criminals” – but the tweet came first. And it wasn’t his last.

Trump’s love of Twitter is neither new nor surprising – its public, unfiltered nature makes it the perfect platform for a man known for his relentless self-promotion and bone-deep belief that there is no such thing as bad publicity. But while Trump’s voice dominated social media during the campaign, he was hardly alone: His relentless tweeting forced opponents from Ted Cruz to Hillary Clinton to step up their own social media games.

Though she lost the election, perhaps Clinton can take solace in knowing her “delete your account” received more likes and shares than anything her opponent posted. She also poked fun at herself with a “Funny or Die” segment that went viral.

Twitter Canada’s managing director, Rory Capern (speaking for himself, not the company), agrees the platform was “inextricably linked” to discussions regarding the U.S. election this year, noting that in recent years how political candidates in both the U.S. and elsewhere communicate with their followers has become a driving force in many campaigns.

“We’re seeing it in the U.S. at a scale that’s extraordinary,” he says. “Trump’s got a gigantic following, as does Hillary.”

I don’t think you have to look far to see the evidence: Throughout the campaign, legions among Trump’s 13 million followers and Clinton’s 10 million followers not only liked and retweeted their candidates’ messages, but spread their own, making iconic hashtags of #ImWithHer, #MuslimsReportStuff, #DraintheSwamp, and #MAGA (Make America Great Again) that, whether you agree with the underlying causes or not, served as a testament to the 2016 campaign’s unparalleled ability to engage people, and their tendency to voice that engagement on Twitter.

Every controversial moment during the campaign led to a series of thinkpieces using Twitter to gauge the pulse of the electorate, and according to the site’s own metrics, since the primary debates began last August, 1 billion election-related tweets have been sent from the U.S. alone.

Admittedly, there are at least three dark undersides to this: a ridiculous number of tweets have come from automated accounts; the force driving much of the engaged electorate – on both sides – has been fear; and many, many, many, many of their messages have been abusive.

But I’ve been voting in U.S. elections since 2004; I remember Twitter’s creation in 2006; and I can’t remember the social media icon ever being mentioned as often as it has been this time around.

Good or bad, Twitter served as the U.S. election’s online living room this year, inviting followers of all stripes to commiserate during what was too often a depressing 16 months (and, for many, promises to be a depressing four years), and reminding users everywhere – including businesses – of the platform’s staying power. That’s something Twitter’s owners, whatever their recent woes, should be proud of.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Eric Emin Wood
Eric Emin Wood
Former editor of turned consultant with public relations firm Porter Novelli. When not writing for the tech industry enjoys photography, movies, travelling, the Oxford comma, and will talk your ear off about animation if you give him an opening.

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