How Social Networks Impacted Election 2016

By Briana Vannozzi

Vote from home, the meme reads. “Text your vote and avoid long lines.”

Perhaps the second hardest decision for voters, after choosing a candidate this election cycle, was wading through the gobs of information, misinformation and disinformation circulating on social networks.

“The issue is that it’s competitive to be first. And when you want to be first, sometimes you don’t check everything carefully,” said Ben Kaplan, CEO of PR Hacker.

Since the 2012 election, social platforms have become increasingly influential. A majority of U.S. adults — 62 percent according to Pew Research Center — get their news via social networks. From a media professional’s vantage point, that helped perpetuate the good, the bad and the ugly in the presidential campaign.

“There’s something that’s called the viral circle which is, now mass media will cover what’s going on in social media and social media will in turn amplify and broadcast what’s being said in mass media. So it’s a faster and faster cycle. It has a lot of benefits. Ideas can spread much, much faster. You can have a global movement or cause spread all around the world in a single day. But, the flip side is misinformation or disinformation, it spreads faster as well,” Kaplan said.

Take fake news sites like WTOE 5 News. It reported the pope — yes, the pope — had endorsed now president-elect Donald Trump. It was shared thousands of times within a few hours of being posted on Facebook. Or the fake Twitter account purporting to be former mayor of New York City Rudy Giuliani targeting the black and Hispanic vote on Election Day.

“For social media and today’s audiences, news worthiness is more about rarity, uniqueness or emotional appeal than factual information or prominence or significance of the issue itself,” said Klive Oh, assistant professor of communication at William Paterson University.

Oh says that was to the benefit of Donald Trump who masterfully tapped into the emotions and frustrations of the American people, creating a viral presence.

“That is what social media communication really just boils down to, is trying to leave a strong impression in that short attention span of the social media audience that you have,” he said.

And even with the best of intentions, misinformation spread.

A tweet claiming voting machines in Philadelphia were rigged got 11,000 shares. But the whole thing was inaccurate, according to ProPublica’s Electionland Project. And an Election Day guide distributed via Twitter from retailer Urban Outfitters wrongfully told voters they’d need to bring a voter registration card to cast a ballot.

“It’s a new era of viral politics and to get your ideas to spread and be shared, it’s not based on necessarily the information contained, but how well that information is packaged. To be simple, surprising and concrete,” Kaplan said.

The website Adweek reports that on Election Day alone there were 75 million tweets through 3 a.m. and more than 716 million Facebook interactions. And that matters when a candidate’s actions may have less influence than how it reads on your social network feed.