U.S. presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have been squaring off on Twitter since June. But Twitter played an additional role in the recent conversation between the two candidates by livestreaming the presidential debate on September 26, 2016. The debate had over 84 million viewers across the 13 networks carrying it live, according to a Nielsen tally, but for viewers who have cut the cable and only have Internet, Twitter and Facebook provided an additional arena for watching the debate.
Twitter has had a continuing impact on news reporting and politics since the social media platform debuted in 2006. How the impact of Twitter has grown and changed, how the most recent U.S. presidential candidates are using it in the current election cycle or how President Obama became known as the first “meme president” could all be interesting research paper topics for your politics or journalism classes.
Hashtags and #hashtavists
“Before Twitter, the # key was little more than something found on telephones to denote ‘number,'” wrote Dave Lee in “How Twitter changed the world, hashtag-by-hashtag” for the BBC News on November 7, 2013, just before Twitter became a publicly traded company and its influence was beginning to be truly acknowledged in the traditional media. Lee noted the platform’s effectiveness in changing business—especially when it comes to users Twitterstorming companies to push for the removal of offensive products. Twitter has also impacted the way that viewers consume sports media, interact with celebrities and even follow the Arts, not only with promotion, but also with the way that some notable Twitter users, including Hamilton creator Lin Manuel Miranda, tweet about their productions and post photos from back stage.
Hashtag activism has a varied history of effectiveness, but it certainly changes the way that issues are brought to media attention. Fundraising for charities, such as the 2014 viral #icebucketchallenge to raise money for ALS, can reach many more followers through social media, and can encourage involvement when users see their peers become actively involved. During the 2010-11 Egyptian uprisings, Twitter was credited as a key platform for protesters to share information. According to Andre Martin of the Toronto Sun, in his ominously titled “OMSBUDSMAN: Twitter powerful, but trolls could be its downfall,” posted October 1, 2016, Philip Howard of University of Washington, who led a study on the subject, reported that “evidence suggests that social media carried a cascade of messages about freedom and democracy across North Africa and the Middle East, and helped raise expectations for the success of political uprising.”
By providing users with direct access to companies, celebrities, politicians and each other, Twitter and other social media platforms have closed the gap between citizens and their representatives, or the companies they purchase goods from, or the people they idolize. It has also provided a tool for activists to reach a wider audience and to coordinate their efforts. Consider looking into these areas for your research paper topics.
Twitter and election coverage
The way that social media, including Twitter, has impacted the current U.S. political scene is also notable, and can be seen more clearly as the November election looms. “What’s happening with election coverage this year reflects a broader paradigm shift that’s been going on in media coverage since the internet became the primary way Americans get news, Mark Grabowski, associate professor of communications at Adelphi University, told Weston Williams in the Christian Science Monitor article “Twitter, Facebook to Livestream Debates: Will It Bring New Viewers?” posted September 21, 2016. With politicians directly interacting with their constituents and potential voters on Twitter, traditional media often covers not the breaking news, but the reactions of Twitter users to what their candidates have said—or what the candidates have said to each other.
But one problem with the way that Twitter users view their feeds is that they often follow users with similar opinions, making it seem as though their own opinions are the dominant ones, and possibly giving them a false sense of public opinion. In an election as divided as the one between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, assuming that one set of opinions is dominant is likely to give users a false sense of their candidate’s sway. For your research paper topics, you could look into the way the media has changed to follow news broken on Twitter or the dangers of the “filter bubble” that Twitter and other social media create.
Did you watch the presidential debate on Twitter? How did you feel the platform handled it? Let us know how you felt in the comments.