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Analysis

Are social networks the new generation's pollsters?

With Donald Trump’s triumph as the next President of the United States, traditional pollsters’ façade of success has been exposed because, according to their data, Hillary Clinton was the indisputable winner of the 2016 election. However, there were those who always knew the ending to the story: Social Networks

To social network users, the most important opinion is no longer the one issued by a specialist on a television network, but that of a friend who enjoys or suffers the same glories and struggles

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  • MARÍA FERNANDA TORRES B.

18 de noviembre de 2016 22:59 PM

Actualizado el 21 de noviembre de 2016 09:59 AM

If Frank D. Roosevelt was the “radio President”, John F. Kennedy the “TV president” and Barack Obama was the “Internet president”, there is no doubt that Donald Trump will be the “social network president”. Following Marshall McLuhan’s precept that “The medium is the message,” all of the former persons understood the power of each of those platforms, the most popular at their respective times, to reach a massive audience eager to feel like an important part of that which they consider close to them.


It has been said that the recent election of Trump, who will be taking over the presidency of the first world super power next January, took everyone by surprise. However, was there a real conviction that Hillary Clinton would win, or was it just a refusal to read between the lines and acknowledge the business mogul’s real possibilities? Considering that the Democratic candidate won the popular vote and the way Twitter and Facebook showcased her Republican adversary’s surge in popularity, it may well have been both things.


According to the little bird’s network, since the race to the White House began in August 2015, Americans posted approximately a billion tweets on the elections. This number includes the constant messages traded between Clinton and Trump, in what is now considered the toughest and longest 140-character debate in modern politics.


A recent Twitter report reveals the traffic of mentions to the accounts of both @HillaryClinton and @realDonaldTrump between January 1 and November 3, 2016, and the winner of the November 8 election’ was always far more popular than his adversary, who only managed to regain her footing by the end of the race.


What did Trump to take the lead? He constantly posted tweets that sparked controversy, generating news and earning him considerable screen time: his messages defined the daily editorial line in the newscasts of large television networks, motivating millions of audience members to directly follow the steps of the new “King of Twitter.”

The story was very similar on Facebook. Months ago, the social network’s statistics already declared Trump as the winner after analyzing the data of its community in the United States: conversations, reactions and a high volume of posts and messages about Trump, not to mention those made by users outside the actual voters’ circle.


Facebook’s algorithm (the way a page’s content are shown to the public) only allows to reach a portion of an account’s total followers, but prioritizes content that is more visually attractive and generates the most reactions. This is decisive for a post to go viral. In any case, for better or worse, the reality is that during this campaign year almost no Facebook user managed to escape from at least one piece of content about Donald Trump. Does this tell us anything? Yes: we were all exposed to his image, while very little to Hillary Clinton’s and her virtues reached any audience whatsoever.


On the subject of each candidate’s Facebook page, they had widely different strategies. On her part, Clinton went with a more traditional and familiar political image with little or no style variation throughout her campaign and, when discussing her opponent, Hillary’s staff took it upon themselves to prepare several videos reminding people the reasons not to vote for Trump. However, very few times did they make the same effort to highlight the reasons why the American people should vote for her instead.


In contrast, Trump’s profile was far more aggressive and clear towards his target audience, as well as far less subtle and overall flashier. And, when it came to mentioning his opponent, the posts consisted mostly of news pieces extracted from important outlets underlining Clinton’s wrongdoings during her tenure as Secretary of State.


This data, alongside Donald Trump’s victory, lead us to deduce that we must be more attentive to what social networks say going forward, as they tend to be an accurate echo of people’s sentiments. Pollsters and traditional media outlets reach very little and segmented groups  compared to the scope of spaces such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or even YouTube.


There is no doubt that the world order for communication and information is changing. To social network users, the most important opinion is not the one issued by a specialist on a television network, but that of a friend who enjoys or suffers the same glories and struggles. Nowadays, social networks are the message.

Translated by Samuel Mendoza

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