The Trump campaign of 2016 will doubtlessly go down as one of the most dramatic and sensational in history, especially considering Trump’s tendency to spark national controversy on Twitter.
Although the president-elect’s style of social media usage is of a kind highly unusual in the political sphere, the rising importance of digital media in presidential campaigns cannot be solely attributed to one candidate.
The use of social media as a major campaign strategy was first pioneered by President Barack Obama
in the 2008 election and was repeated successfully in 2012.
His strategy encompassed a range of elements, including Facebook, online fundraising, and a YouTube channel, paired with more traditional forms of outreach via phone and direct mail. The millennial generation (those born between 1981 and 1998) has been a driving force behind the rise of social media and is attributed with tipping the scales in President Obama’s favor both election cycles.
Given that social media has become an integral component of the political process during a time of dramatic polarization, there is a concern that the digital world has become a means to filter out opposing opinions from one’s personal online universe – creating an “echo chamber.”
Data from the Pew Research Center reveal that the echo chamber is not necessarily born of a refusal to consider opposing viewpoints, but has developed out of the negative political climate and of the desire to avoid confrontation.
Diversity of opinion on social media
Social media is widely marketed as an interconnected environment that enables content sharing, collaboration, and shared dialogue.
This would seemingly appeal to anyone with an inclination for political debate, which requires careful consideration of a variety of viewpoints, evidence, and opinions.
However, social media does not currently live up its this potential to contribute to healthy democratic debate.
Upon examination of Americans’ social media habits, the data reveal that about a third of users do not perceive much diversity of opinion in their news feeds, though many seem to recognize the value of exposure to diverse views.
The Pew Research Center’s State of the Media 2016 study shows that 31 percent of social media users perceive the news posted by their friends or family to present diverse opinions, while 35 percent say posts from friends or family present just one set of viewpoints.
Of this subset, 69 percent say they would like to see more diverse viewpoints in their online social circle, while 30 percent are okay with one-sidedness.