At the University of South Carolina, students and a panel of prominent media leaders discussed the impact of social media.
By Danielle Kennedy
October 18, 2016
Two leaders of the state Democratic and Republican parties may not see eye-to-eye on their presidential candidates but they agree upon one thing: “We can’t go back from social media.”
Matt Moore, chair of the South Carolina Republican Party and former Democratic leader, Amanda Loveday, told an audience of young college students on Sept. 27 that social media has revolutionized the way that presidential candidates in the 2016 election reach their audiences.
“All of the content people are consuming is almost all on social media; it’s amazing,” Moore said. “No one’s actually going beyond 140 characters [on Twitter], to updating a Facebook post so you can change the scenario within a split second with a tweet.”
Other panelists, Hadas Gold, media reporter at Politico election reporter, and Charles Bierbauer, dean of the College of Information and Communication at USC-Columbia, agree that social media has taken the front seat in communication during this presidential election.
“Social media has really changed politics in this political cycle,” Loveday said. “In 2016, specifically, we’ve seen… a presidential candidate who has used social media in a way that we’ve never seen any other candidate use it.”
That candidate is Republican Donald J. Trump, real estate mogul, author of ‘The Art of the Deal’, star and creator of the hit show “The Apprentice” and former owner of Miss Universe Inc.
The role and importance of social media have exploded especially in this election because of Trump rise and national Republican nominee status. The way in which candidates get their message to their audience has changed dramatically as a result of this social experiment.
Over the course of Trumps’ Twitter life; he has used this platform to attack and belittle Hillary Clinton as well as other individuals to spread his rhetoric to as many people as possible.
“Donald Trump is a creature of social media,” said Rickey Hill, chairman of the political science department at Jackson State University.
Hill was not surprised by Trump’s ascent because the candidate had already used social media tools in his drive to become a famous media personality.
“We can trace the rise of social media alongside the rise of something called ‘reality television,’” Hill said. “Donald Trump has cut his teeth over the last twenty plus years in reality television.”
Just as in celebrity culture, social media is the vehicle in which candidates can reach their audiences without journalists, panelists said.
In 2015, before running for president, Trump had amassed a Twitter following of 3.5 million followers. After receiving the national Republican nomination, he now has 11.9 million followers on Twitter alone, according to Politico.com. Trump “out tweets” and has the largest following of all the presidential candidates this year.
“I think of all of the elections, people are saying or calling it (the 2016 election) the Twitter election,” said Gold. “At least one of the candidates has used social media as his main form of communication, really bypassing traditional ways, we’re use to the candidates talking to the press.”
“Absolutely, this is the Twitter media campaign in a way that we have not seen it,” Bierbauer said.
Social media outlets such as Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat are the new political battlegrounds that are going to be used to reach out directly to the younger generation of registered voters. The elections of the 1950’s and 1960’s their parents and grandparents remember – elections where journalists served as gatekeepers in shaping the images of the candidates – are a bygone era.
Social media has transformed the interactions between politician and voter, leaving both seemingly accessible but disconnected.
“Since early 2000, I think social media has changed the entire landscape,” Hill said. Social media depersonalizes political discourse.”
Don Fowler, a USC political science professor and former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, believes social media will be transformative for the electoral process.
“The social media, the new media are as important – if not more important – than television, which was the dominant media for at least 50 years,” he said.
Now, he said, presidential debates are readily available via Internet, Twitter streams and websites in addition to television, so voters can go back and look at them again and again.
The explosion of Trump’s Twitter following and reality television popularity lead to the rise of Trump but was not unforeseen according to Gold.
“We were talking to voters at a (former GOP presidential contender) Jeb Bush event asking, ‘Who else are you looking at?’ and they’d bring up Donald Trump,” said Gold.”Reporters for the most part ignored them and they were literally saying it to our faces.”