By Abbie Hurwitz
Before the 2008 election, using the internet for political campaigns was practically unheard of. During this election, Barack Obama was the first presidential candidate to demonstrate how the internet can be used to build a voter base. His use of email and Facebook took elections by storm, proving the necessity of social media in the presidential race.
Now it’s 2016, and in comparison to the current candidates, Obama looks as though he had only dipped his toes in the pool of possibilities for political social media use. Today, 69 percent of American adults use social media, up from 37 percent in 2008. Forty-one percent of people ages 15 to 25 participate in some sort of political activity online, according to huffingtonpost.com. In 2016, social media will be a key to engaging millennial voters.
Politicians have embraced social media platforms and have taken to them in different ways. Ted Cruz streams his live appearances online and Marco Rubio is a frequent Snapchat user. Bernie Sanders has acquired a large following on Facebook.
In a sense, the biggest impact of social media is not how candidates can reach out to voters, but instead how voters can express their opinions about candidates. The ability to reach out to candidates has been used both for support and criticism, giving people a new way to be involved with the election. When Clinton attempted to appeal to Hispanic voters by releasing “7 things Hillary Clinton has in common with your abuela” on hillaryclinton.com, the community took to Twitter to respond. The hashtag #NotMyAbuela quickly went viral, according to nytimes.com.
Candidates also utilize social media as a way to argue with their opponents. Political Twitter wars have become frequent as candidates take to the platform to publicly debate and attack fellow candidates. Donald Trump has become most notable for this, spurring fights with candidates at seemingly every opportunity. These fights can range from commentary on potential policies proposed by candidates to retweeting a photoshopped picture of Jeb Bush with his finger in his nose, according to cnn.com.
Ultimately, the importance of social media comes down to being noticed and staying prominent in a society built up on short-lived trends. According to politico.com, “You’re only as relevant as your last tweet.”