How virtually unknown social networks determined Trump’s victory

How virtually unknown social networks determined Trump’s victory

Aldo Agostinelli

It is the third time that social media and the internet have played a crucial role in determining the results of the US election and in choosing the candidate who will settle in the Oval room. It proved a real conundrum for political analysts and experts, who overlooked the so called vox populi and used only the most traditional channels to issue their forecast, and once again ended up getting voting trends wrong. 

At the end of the voting process, the counting led to the now well-known result, leaving those who a few hours before had claimed Hillary Clinton could boast a 83% advantage over the competitor absolutely speechless.  An epic fail for many of the biggest daily newspapers as well as for analysts and pollsters.

Carlo Brunelli explained it thus: “People who said that media could not understand what was going on in America are absolutely right: while everybody was busy analysing the most conventional and mainstream reality, a new virtual narrative was being generated online, especially away from social networks”. (If you speak Italian, read Brunelli’s original article, “Meme and board virality: the anti-social network web world that has crowned Trump”, here).

Trump’s Snapchat filter let users share selfies with fireworks and “Make America Great Again!” as a background

A typical example is given by Snapchat, a mobile social network particularly loved by the youngest users and electors, with 86% of its users aged between 13 and 34. In just 4 years it has reached over 150 million active users (surpassing Twitter, which has 140 million) and an average of 10 billion videos watched per day. To capture the attention of millennials, Trump launched for the first time ever, a photographic geofilter named “Debate Day: Donald J. Trump vs. Crooked Hillary” (filters are usually created for local events, and that’s how Hillary used them). Users could take selfies to be shared with their friends, with fireworks and “Make America Great Again!” as a background. The filter was viewed over 80 million times.  Now that’s what you call a success story.

According to Socialbakers, the two candidates’ political campaigns generated over 75 million conversations on Twitter alone. But it is obvious that there is a new reality beyond the classic and easy-to-monitor social networks which target the over 30s: a reality made of apps, chats, websites and blogs which are totally unknown to analysts and pollsters. A thorough analysis of this reality and its dominance could have saved many people from the post-election shock caused by the appointment of a renown tycoon as the 45th President of the United States of America.

There is a new reality beyond the classic and easy-to-monitor social networks which target the over 30s

A group of extreme right activists named alt-right spread their support to the Republican candidate through a meme on 4chan, a board where anyone can anonymously post their thoughts and ideas which will then disappear a few minutes later. By using Pepe The frog (the most famous character in the forum), the aforementioned xenophobe group conveyed a fun image of the president-to-be turning it into a viral phenomenon. It got as far as Trump himself tweeting this cartoon depicting him as a frog dressed like the President of the United States .

One thing we know for sure: trying to understand who will vote for whom and why, based only on offline networks and traditional social media is no longer enough.

Do you think the web can substantially affect people’s political orientation? I would like to get your thoughts. Tweet me @agostinellialdo.

If you liked this post, you can also read: Why “Instagram stories” constitutes an important lesson for digital innovation