Election of 2016: The real first social media election.

The impact of Social Media on politics never felt so real than on the Presidential election of 2016. In fact, Patrick Ruffini, in a recent article, stated that “this election cycle is the first I’ve seen where candidates realize social media as their direct pipeline into the mainstream media coverage and to voters.”

Even though the elections of both 2008 and 2012 have claimed to be the first social media presidential election- analysis of this election has proven otherwise.


Analysis of this year’s election demonstrates how the role of social media has changed since the last election in 2012. Frank Speiser, states that this is the “first true social media election.” He goes on to further states that “before it was an auxiliary method for communication. But now, candidates can put messages out their and get folks on social media to act on your behalf by just sharing it around.” Furthermore, in a study completed by Pew Research Center, a majority of those 18-29, said “social media is the most helpful means of learning new things about politics. Because of the prevalence of both messages, communication, and the shear population on social media sites, these types of platforms play a critical role in the election.” These quotes exemplify the importance and impact of social media in modern day politics.

Why did this happen?

  1. Social Media as a News Source

One reason why social media has been so pivotal in the election of 2016 is due to the fact that so many people leverage Facebook and other social media sites to receive news. These sites are becoming more popular as a news outlet as compared to a site for personal information. In fact, 44 percent of the United States population receive their news from these types of sites. This is critical when Facebook has nearly 1.6B monthly active users- a number up 60 % from the last election in 2012. Furthermore, more people “than ever get their news mainly from social network sites.” Because social media users are now utilizing social media sites for real news, it is important that these sites ensure that the news stories are correct and accurate.

  1. Fake News

As mentioned above, social media users leverage these sites as a popular news source; however, sometimes these news articles are not true. In fact, many critics have “urged tech companies to try to prevent the spread of misinformation, which critics say hurt political discourse and sharpen divisions among American voters.” Furthermore, because of network effects and growing popularity of these sites, even fake news stories grow in popularity quickly and very widespread. Often this happens without any fact checking.


One social media site taking much of the heat for the results of this election is Facebook. Since the election on Tuesday, November 7th, there have been numerous articles about how “Facebook” may have impacted the results and how people chose to vote. In fact, Mark Zuckerberg has come out with a statement to explain his opinion on the current situation. Facebook may have created a skewed view of the status of the election. According to this article, many people have “cited Donald Trump’s surprise victory due to the ‘fake news and memes’ which circulated social media sites. In addition, an article in the MIT Technology News, states that “critics say that by promulgating fake and misleading news, Facebook brainwashed voters into electing Donald Trump as president.”

Because of the impact of fake news, many sites are taking prohibitive steps to ensure that fake news is not allowed on their networks. Google and Facebook are two of the major sites who have come out with statements regarding steps they will take in the future to ensure that these types of stories do not make it onto their sites. In a recent article published by The Wall Street Journal, Facebook and Google “announced steps to prevent fake news from generating revenue.” In the case of Google, they will close their “advertising tools to websites that promote fake news.” Furthermore, Facebook has also made statements related to Fake news and the steps that they will take to ensure that these types of news stories do not make it to newsfeeds.

  1. Polarization

One of the key problems of Facebook, as discussed in ISYS6621, is that Facebook does a good job of only allowing you to see what you want to see and what aligns with your personal beliefs. However, the problem with this, is that it may have contributed to the hyperbolized level of success for how many people would vote for Hillary Clinton. Often times, those that we surround ourselves in the digital as well as the real world, are those who follow and have the same beliefs that we do. However, this may pose a problem- particularly when there are so many undecided voters who only see one side of the issues.

.The election of 2016 is an example of how social media changed perception of the population and impacted actions of its users. It is critical that, from this point forward, social media sites realize the potential power they have over the public. It will be necessary that these sites put into effect regulations and criteria in order to ensure that there is a balance of power and information across these sites.







  1. kdphilippi18 · ·

    Great job! This was a very thorough analysis of how social media impacted the election. What’s unfortunate, though, is we can’t really measure the extent of its impact. Fake news, polarization, and Social media as a news source definitely reached and affected millions, but we don’t actually know if it swayed their votes, although many have attempted. I’m not sure how we would go about collecting that data, but I image it is extremely difficult to measure. In the future, I agree that social media giants like Facebook, need to be better about validating news – there were too many fake news stories that went viral and while we can’t measure their impact – they have the potential of negatively swaying voters opinions.

  2. mashamydear · ·

    Nice informative blog post, it summarizes the conversations going on about social media and the election very nicely. I was intrigued by the Popular Mechanics article you mentioned, in specific Mark saying that “the power of Facebook is that you control what you see by who you choose to connect with.” It reminded me of the conversation we had in class about the filter bubble, and how the more isolated we are from differing opinions (because most people have friends that share similar views due to cultural homophily) the less open minded we become.

    I think some fake news stories out there are pretty blatantly false, but I think fake details in mostly true news stories is also a significant part of the problem. And once something goes viral it’s incredibly difficult to correct the misinformation, as we know. It’s hard for me to make a judgement about how Facebook filters fake news since I know little about their algorithm or process in doing so, but it’s pretty crazy to think that there are media outlets that dedicate themselves to mimicking real news but for their own questionable objectives. I’m curious as to who is behind these sites and the political implications.

  3. polmankevin · ·

    Great points about the election. I think the main point is that people use social media for their news. It’s by far the most engaging and convenient way to get information. The obvious problem with that, as you stated, is fake news that basically serves as propaganda. This fake news does more than frustrate users, It has the ability to influence people. If a fake news article says that one candidate is supposed to win in a landslide than an on the fence voter might not make an effort to vote. However, the real issue is credibility. We know that we can’t trust the sources sharing the fake news, but can we trust Facebook? If the site is unable to effectively fight off fake news sources than people will go elsewhere to find trustworthy news, and that could hurt Facebook’s monthly active users. This is definitely a pivot point in the history of the company.

  4. Great analysis of the different ways in which social media has contributed to/impacted this election cycle. I do think the difference between the 2016 election and those of 2008 and 2012 is that people are realizing the negative aspects of social media more and more, especially in regards to political thought. Yes, social media had been used to attack and criticize in the previous two elections, but that use was nowhere near what it was this year. It definitely stemmed from the increased use of Facebook for news – people realized that the could use the platform for harm, in the form of false journalism. And while you didn’t mention Twitter, I personally believe that Twitter has become even more vile this past election – or perhaps it’s always been this way and users are just realizing it now. I remember when Obama was running for president, and the talk about social media was positive – that he was using it effectively to reach out to young voters. But now, nearly all the chatter about FB in the past week or so has been critical. What a shift in the past eight years.

  5. emilypetroni14 · ·

    Also of note is how each of the candidates used social media to their advantage, which I mentioned in my blog “How the Election was Won with Less $$ and More Tweets”. Voters that followed one or both of thw candidates on Twitter could have been influenced by their tweets and Trump used Twitter to negate the fake news.

  6. cmackeenbc · ·

    Great post! As we have talked about so much in class, social media really did play such an integral role in this election. I read something recently that said that 40% of adults report Facebook as their main source of news–kind of wild/mildly concerning considering the issues with false news that you highlighted above. I also think that Trump’s campaign may have used social media not actually to negate fake news but to spread it. For example, he retweeted a fake crime statistic, and when asked for comment, he responded in an interview that he “wasn’t going to check every statistic” he used (http://www.factcheck.org/2015/11/trump-retweets-bogus-crime-graphic/). It will be interesting to see how social media is used during his term and if his tone and strategy changes at all. Hopefully as time goes on, politicians, social media platforms, journalists, and civilians will pursue the communication of the truth when informing themselves and others on matters that affect our country and how we run it.

  7. Love when my tweets get quoted in posts. I’m not sure I’d call this the first “real” SM election, but the role of SM in elections have certainly evolved and morphed in each of the past 3 presidential cycles. It’s been interesting (if not always enjoyable) to watch.

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