First it was newspapers and radio. Then it was television. Now it’s social media. The widespread use of social media has transformed sites like Facebook and Twitter into tools for presidential candidates to reach potential voters, but is it trustworthy?
By Jeffrey Griffin
November 17, 2016
It’s 1858. Abraham Lincoln and incumbent U.S. Senator Stephen Douglas are on the campaign trail in their battle for state senator for Illinois. This is before the first automobile, and the two are reliant upon trains and horses to get them to their destinations for historical debates that focused on the abolishment abolition of slavery. The public had to wait days for newspapers to spread the news and read a story through the perspective of the writer.
Fast forward to September 26, 1960.
U.S. Sen. John F. Kennedy and Vice President Richard Nixon take the stage for the first ever televised debate. This is the first time people not in attendance can see the debate with their own eyes.
This represents a game-changing evolution in technology that has a direct impact on directly impacted which candidate would become secure their seat in the White House as the next President of the United States.
This was the first time in the history of the United States that viewers could form instant opinions for themselves instead of formulating opinions based on a writer’s perspective. For the first time, the masses were able to physically see the two candidates. This made candidate’s appearances a huge factor in the election, with Kennedy
Fast forward to September 2016.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton faced off against Republican Donald Trump, whose upset victory Nov. 8 was credited in part to his savvy use of social media.
This is the third presidential election since the birth of social media platforms Facebook and Twitter. Social media was involved with the 2008 and 2012 elections, but this election season has felt the direct impact of social media.
“2016 is the most reliant election in terms of social media use,” Hadas Gold of politico.com said during a late September panel discussion at the University of South Carolina about politics and media. Gold also commented that candidates are now “bypassing the traditional ways to get to voters.”
At the same panel, Charles Bierbauer, dean of the University of South Carolina’s College of Mass Communications and Information Studies, discussed how social media has become a tool for politicians during election season.
“Politicians have always tried for the unfiltered process to go around journalists in order to get to voters. Social media allows candidates to reach voters directly, and politicians prefer this,” Bierbauer said.
So just how big of an impact does social media hold on presidential elections?
According to a USA Today article in January of this year by Elizabeth Weise, 58 percent of the adult population in the United States has a Facebook account. This gives 58 percent of adults in the United States a voice, whether that voice is used or not, in any type of discussion that is important in their lives, including the presidential election.
With the rise in use of social media, almost all content regarding the election can be found on each platform. With the rising number of voices and journalistic outlets growing alongside platforms like Facebook, some of that content is unreliable and subjective.
Parker Rivers, 29, of Columbia, is skeptic of political information that he sees on Facebook.
“I don’t trust news on Facebook until I can actually go back and verify it somewhere else,” Rivers said.
With more than half of the adult population on Facebook, it’s somewhat difficult to find somebody that does not use it.
Jerome Palmer, who lives in Lower Richland, said he refuses to use Facebook. “I go to television when I’m getting any kind of political news. Facebook is the last thing that I would trust, especially with politics,” Palmer said.
Even with some people that are skeptical with using Facebook, social media still provides the candidates of elections an outlet to make a connection with potential voters.
Candidates can make official statements and formulate thoughts on their campaign with strokes from a keyboard instead of reading prepared speeches. In this election season, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have traded verbal jabs at each other. These posts can even be viewed as informal debates for users and potential voters to see and analyze while they think about which candidate that they are going to vote for.
Candidates can utilize one of the newer features of Facebook, called “Facebook Live” to go live to their supporters or potential voters at the press of a button. “Social media has grown exponentially, and there’s no telling how it will evolve next,” Bierbauer said.
With the growth and connection to voters that social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook have created presents the biggest question: how will Facebook and Twitter evolve next to help politicians in future campaigns?