The 2016 Presidential election has impacted our society in more ways than one. The United States has clearly become divided. However, what is it about this election that was so different? As represented with Obama’s reelection in 2012, and now the success of Donald Trump in 2016, social media has become a vital component of a candidate’s success. With social media being such a prominent aspect of our lives, it is important to analyze the repercussions this has had on our nation as a whole.
My partner and I have decided to construct an independent study; aimed at analyzing how social media communication has changed since the start of the election process while evaluating its impact on the current election. We chose to narrow the demographic and focus on the millennial generation. Our decision was based on the fact that our generation (the millennial generation) makes up a large majority of the user interface within Twitter and Facebook.
“This year those strong feelings and contentious discussions are leading to more than arguments and awkward moments with friends and family: they’re leading to the end of relationships. We’ve gone from being able to agree to disagree to believing that politics are bringing out the worst in others.A poll conducted by Monmouth University lays the situation out pretty clearly: “Fully 70% of American voters say that this year’s presidential campaign has brought out the worst in people.”- Thefederalist.com
Our study is prominently aimed at examining Facebook and Twitter. Facebook and Twitter are the two applications that this behavior was seen the most. Younger social networking sites such as Snapchat create a different atmosphere from the service they offer. However, we recognized how quickly political conversations became hostile. We conducted our study by interviewing individuals that fall within our demographic. We made sure to diversify our interviews by seeking out individuals from both political parties, and people who crossed party lines for this past election.
“On Twitter, there’s the public shaming of those who dare disagree with or insult you. Someone tweets at you with something incendiary, bashing the article you just shared or the point you just made, mocking something you said about politics, calling you stupid, etc.” –opb.org
Going into our study, we hypnotized that this election caused an outbreak of nontraditional political communication within Facebook. By nontraditional, we are referring to dialogue that has had a tendency to become more malicious. In addition, in observation, these comments gravitated more towards targeting one’s personal beliefs. Every single applicant interviewed had a similar response when asked if they have seen Facebook and Twitter become a “political battlefield”. Which in turn has added to this divide among our citizens.
“I noticed something that actually represented that thought. I see that more people are making fun or being mean to people. People argue at each other and don’t actually debate over policy or what actually matters”- interviewee
The idea that dialogue has become more personal and less to do with policy is a large part of our study. We have also noticed how fake news has had a large impact on this idea. Fake news gives people more things to argue about, things that aren’t even factual. For example, stories circulated quoting Trump for things he never actually said. Additionally, there have been stories claiming Hillary Clinton is connected to child sex rings. Neither of these stories are true however, it didn’t matter. People attach themselves stories like this and immediately engage in arguments over information irrelevant of factual evidence. Of course, there are traditional political debates within Facebook; nevertheless, the majority was nontraditional and malicious. This brings us to our next hypothesis. We have contemplated that this has caused the divide in our country to get even worse. We have linked this concept back to social media’s utilization during the election process.
“It’s sad that the way we have begun to treat each other online is going to have everlasting effects, its like there are two sides and they just don’t like each other, people are so mean to each other on Facebook. Of course, there has always been this behavior, but not at this magnitude” – Interviewee
We chose to ask our subjects two questions relating to this divide. First, we asked if they thought that social media has had a large impact on the growing separation. The responses were overwhelming. Many people responded by saying they think social media did played a significant role. Secondly, we concluded the interview by asking if they thought this divide was going to go away, stay the same, or get worse. 95% of the interviewees said they believe that as long as we live our lives, and politics within social media that this divide is going to continue to get even worse.
“Nothing about the Internet is purely good or bad, and those same social networks that can help bring people together can also often be used to drive them apart.” -voanews.com
We analyzed this thought and concluded that it is because social media opens up a door for mass communication, giving everyone a platform in which they can share their opinions and thoughts. Whenever there is a space for mass distribution of thoughts and opinions we are going to see an outbreak of controversial arguments. In this instance, people had such strong beliefs behind both Trump and Clinton. Emotion has played a large part as well, more than ever; we have seen emotions fueling a large part of the election in general. In turn, the large emotional connection to either candidate has constructed this harsh rhetoric we are analyzing.
“It got so bad that I couldn’t even go on Facebook without seeing someone yelling at the other person because of who they support” -Interviewee
Memes have become popular over the last five years. We noticed how memes evolved in this political process. It has been drastically altered from its original usage. A meme has turned into the political cartoon of the modern day. Which also has generated nontraditional political rhetoric that has caused a tremendous amount of controversy online. It is astonishing how much feuding has occurred from memes that have gone viral. They are used to visualize one’s thoughts and opinions. This has created another form of expression. Memes very rarely target a candidates policies. Rather they are used more to attack a candidates supporters. (Refer to the slide show below for examples.)
“They [memes] are absurd, politically incorrect, and incomplete and require the knowledge of context to “get” the joke. But most importantly, they mirror public opinion and popular emotions on the subject.” -Anastasia Denisova CAPX.com
Memes have become a part of the dialogue within Facebook specifically. Regardless that they are represented in a slightly different way, they serve the same purpose. Memes were never meant to be serious forms of expression, they were constructed with the idea of a more sarcastic approach. Memes have now become a form of political satire. However, they go viral quite faster than posts can. A meme is one picture, or a short video consisting of minimal text. They are easy to understand and even easier to share. This creates a faster system of distribution. Most memes are somewhat based on a truthful claim. However, fake news has made its way into memes as well. Nevertheless, memes tend to be based more on opinion than fact. When fewer facts shared and more opinion circulates social media, it opens up the door for more disagreements leading to arguing within these applications.
“Additionally, as more young Americans inform themselves and shape their opinions based on memes and social media, a smaller space is left for traditional news sources in informing and shaping political discourse. While these news sources fact-check and at least some of them attempt to give relatively nonbiased reports, memes, and social media have no such restrictions. This means that much of the information disseminated in this way is more opinion than fact.” -Brownpoliticalreview.com
We have concluded that our findings have backed up our original hypotheses, which has indicated that social media communication has turned more hostile since the election has taken place. The rhetoric that has become most popular consists of attacking individuals with opposing beliefs. Additionally, it is important to remember that not all of social media communications share these traits; specifically, political discussions online. Even though we see a large number of nontraditional behavior, social media does consist of traditional political debating. Debates where two parties can agree to disagree and focus only on policy and not get personal. It is impossible to tell where the future will bring us and how prominent social media will be. However, if social media continues on the path it is on, it is only going to get more relevant to our everyday lives. We have gathered information that suggests many people believe this divide is going to get much worse, nevertheless, only time will tell.
Study conducted by:Zachary Kayal, and Robert Pelaez