The end is near. The Battle for The White House will soon be over. Like the past two US elections, social media continues to play a major role in influencing public opinion. But this time the stakes seem a lot higher – both in the US and abroad – and the sheer volume and ferocity of 2016 election content are making the tension almost palpable.
It’s too easy to blame Trump’s heavy-handed faux pas and Hillary’s self-satisfied takedowns as the primary drivers for increased social media attention. The way we create and distribute online content has changed significantly over the past four years, and now really comes into its own where political mudslinging’s concerned.
Would be political commentators now have access to a Matrix-style storeroom of snark-ready digital weaponry. Shareable content has seriously upped its game for starters. From Hillary’s debate ‘entrance strut’, to the dedicated @TrumpSniff Twitter feed, there’s wealth of diverse content out there this time around — not least because of how high profile both Trump and Clinton have been over the past 20 years.
Few pieces of election-focused social media content are posted without addition of a simple picture, as a way of enhancing engagement. But knowing glares and scary listening faces aside, static visual content isn’t making the grade in 2016. Animated gifs are much more widespread, as are other forms of short format video content — Vine, Instagram, Snapchat, and WhatsApp. Throw live broadcast video tools like Periscope and Facebook Live into the mix and few stones are left unturned. And let’s not forget YouTube.
With so few places for candidates to hide, the Internet meme remains in good health. Just ask #HillaryFly or Forrest Trump. And then there’s Ken Bone; an undecided voter and audience member in the second Presidential debate who briefly became an Internet sensation. While the resulting celebratory social media response to Ken Bone (and his red knitted sweater) was firmly tongue in cheek, the backlash against him came just as swiftly when it transpired he’d made some less than savory remarks on a reddit forum.
Yup, there’s no shortage of exonerating and (mostly) disparaging social media content surrounding the 2016 election. But perhaps the most pertinent reason for the surge in coverage is the number of active social media users there are now compared with 2012 — Twitter: 385 million (185 million in 2012); Instagram: 500 million (90 million in 2012); Facebook: 1.6 billion (less than 1 bn in 2012). 9,000 Snapchat photos are sent every second.
Whoever ends up in the Oval Office on November 9th will no doubt be giving their social media teams a huge pat on the back. But whether their position’s secured by outrageous claims or measured rebuffs to such claims remains to be seen.
Either way, there’s only one clear winner this year… memes.