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How Twitter Changed U.S. Elections in 140 Characters

by Courtney Pittam, published

The presence of social media in politics has boomed recently in light of the forthcoming presidential election as candidates scramble for every last vote. Although platforms like Twitter and Facebook provide invaluable networking opportunities for candidates, one can't help but wonder if this election has become more of a popularity contest than a presidential campaign.

Tweet All About It

Although there is much debate as to whether Twitter's impact is positive or negative, none can deny the influence of the social media site in terms of its sheer numbers. According to Twitter, there are 313 million active users on the site every month. Many politicians turn to Twitter and other similar platforms to gain a following and, in turn, publicity from the vast pool of users.

According to The Altantic, "A candidate without twitter is a losing candidate." Hence the overwhelming presence of politicians in the world of social media; especially, when it comes to the current presidential candidates.

As you can see, there is a major overlap between the worlds of politics and social media; especially, in the midst of the rapidly approaching presidential election.


As seen in various ways by Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, and many others, a social media presence can skyrocket interest among otherwise potentially disinterested voters -- especially the young demographic.

According to Social Media Week, "although young people are the second biggest voting demographic, they consistently have the lowest turnout on election day." Reaching this vast pool of potential votes is more than enough motivation for most presidential hopefuls to get started and gather a social media following.

TIME Magazine calls Twitter followings "predictive, because they measure interest in a candidate, and interest is often correlated with support," but also warns that things aren't always that clear cut. A follower does not directly correlate to a vote.

In addition to getting millennials on board, one of the direct benefits of websites like Twitter is the publicity aspect. According to Government Technology, Donald Trump in particular is taking full advantage of the free exposure he gleams from social media outlets:

"If he sought similar attention by buying ads, Trump's social reach would cost $380 million. Instead, he's getting it for free in tweets, likes and shares -- although not all of it is positive."

Be warned, the free press element of social media has the power to make or break a political campaign.


Twitter and other instantaneous forms of online communication force politicians to think before they tweet. The Washington Post calls it:

"[A]n immediate -- and often unfiltered -- mode of communication, which the last seven years have shown can be dangerous for pols who otherwise live under a shroud of privacy, handlers, and carefully selected talking points."

Once posted, there is no going back. A single tweet can be detrimental to a politician's credibility - or worse - candidacy. Presidential hopefuls seem to be judged more harshly on the feedback from their most recent Instagram post than their course of political action.

Not only have social media platforms like Twitter had an impact on candidates themselves, they have also revolutionized the entire way in which we talk about politics. The discussion is now constricted to a limited number of characters, forcing a slimmed down highlight reel of often times incredibly complex and important stories. Gone are the days of reading the newspaper and watching the news to remain informed. We are now reliant on news networks and campaigns to grab us with a clever headline and keep us up to date in 140 characters or less.

For better or for worse, social media platforms like Twitter are here to stay in the realm of politics.

Photo Credit: ymgerman /

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