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After the first Republican primary presidential debate this past August, one of the biggest repercussions of the night was the online feud between candidate Donald Trump and Fox News host Megyn Kelly.

Image screenshot from Twitter.com

Image screenshot from Twitter.com

Trump has been particularly known for his rampant use of social media, often promoting his candidacy, but often attacking his critics as he did with Kelly. While Trump’s tweets may not exactly present him in the most flattering light, they do exemplify the growing prominence of the candidates’ use of social media and how they will come into play during the upcoming 2016 United States presidential election.

In his article “Welcome to the Social Media Election,” David McCabe describes how the candidates for the 2016 election increasingly utilize social media as a key battleground for the fight for the White House. While prominent sites such as Facebook and Twitter have been used in past elections to gain supporters, the upcoming race could very well prove their increasing power over traditional news sources and even paid advertising campaigns. In the time since the last two election years, social media use among adults who can vote has gone up significantly. According to Pew Research Center, 65% of Americans in 2015 use at least one social networking site compared to 55% in 2012 and 25% in 2008. By 2016, that percentage will likely increase and nearly three quarters of the population can be reached through social media. This creates a gold mine for presidential hopefuls to target current and potential supporters.

While Facebook and Twitter remain two of the most utilized social networks today, many other sites that have become popularized in recent years could play an active role as well. For instance, Ted Cruz broadcasts his appearances on Periscope, Marco Rubio publishes “Snapchat Stories,” and Hillary Clinton has even engaged in a Twitter war with Jeb Bush over differing policies toward student debt. Former Obama campaign staffer believes that the game has changed with this election, saying “You need to operate more quickly on Twitter than you do on Facebook. I think Snapchat and Periscope will continue to become more of the norm in terms of providing behind-the-scenes content.” In general, the candidates have been using social media so far in order to connect with fans to gain a strong online following, show more personality to that following, and be able to frequently broadcast their message a vast audience. Why focus too much on speaking at a campaign rally for a few hundred people when they can get their message out to millions of followers every day through social media? However, will the candidates use of social media actually effect their ratings? Hillary Clinton clearly has not grasped how technology should be used with her use of emailing.

While all the candidates are using social media, how they use it makes a huge difference. While Bush and Clinton’s Twitter posts may not be to the point and generally uncontroversial, they generally do not create much buzz. If the candidates do that, they often create more interest and support, as indicated by particularly by Donald Trump, who has created a media circus through his controversial tweets and out-there personality. In the age of technology, creating buzz often captures more attention than having good policies.  Trump has been able to become the most popular Republican candidate largely because of this.

Image courtesy of Gage Skidmore

Image courtesy of Gage Skidmore

In addition to what candidates post on social media, what they say on TV or to the press becomes plastered all over social media for the entire country to see (whether the candidates want it to or not). In addition to Trump, Ben Carson, who has had a number of controversial quotes about gun control, political correctness, and gay rights, has been all over Facebook and Twitter every time he says something in that realm. In the past, these quotes did not matter to the degree that they do now when everything they say will be seen by almost everyone in the country. But now, even a mildly controversial quote by a candidate can create a ton of attention and either significantly decrease his or her approval ratings or in the case of Trump and Carson create more interest and awareness for the candidate.

Although the U.S. is still in the relatively early stages of the election, what we have seen so far with regard to the candidates and social media usage is very telling. It will be extremely interesting to see what role it will play as the election unfolds, especially in regard to the significance of a candidates buzz against their actual polices. Will it be that the person with the most Facebook followers has a better chance over the person with the best ideas about the future of the U.S.?

Featured image courtesy of Flickr user Diego Cambiaso

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