Social media, in times of elections or other major events, becomes a fantastic and fun second screen experience with an eclectic content mix, including reportage, serious analysis and banter (jokes, memes). Thursday night was no different, given two massive events that dominated the media landscape in the US. First, the Republican debate, in which Donald Trump made his debut as a presidential candidate and second, comedian Jon Stewart’s farewell as the host of the The Daily Show.
The presidential debate was co-hosted by Facebook along with Fox news, which represented a significant jump in the social media platform’s ambition of becoming the first port of call for users interested in the elections, and indeed the debate. Facebook allowed its users or potential Republican voters to pose questions to the participating candidates on their respective pages. Its partnership with Fox News meant that users could watch clips, or comment on the proceedings of the debate. Just to put things into perspective, there are more active monthly American users on Facebook than there are registered voters in the US.
What makes Facebook even more compelling for the campaigners this time around is the new “Live" feature that it has rolled out where public figures using Facebook Mentions can share live videos with their fans, who can comment, like or share the video.
Similarly, on microblogging platform Twitter, the hashtag #GOPDebate was the one-stop channel for those interested in the event. It included a usual cache of live-tweets, analysis from reporters and journalists at the venue, along with a host of “liberals" who weren’t falling short of a joke, every time Trump intervened to make his case. Even Democratic hopeful Hillary Clinton took to Twitter to say this:
While Facebook and Twitter remain the most widely used platforms since they allow real-time rapid responses, they are not the only ones. Video messaging and photo app Snapchat, too, jumped deep into the fray as candidates sent candid photos and videos through the app, while users followed the debate through a “Live Story" photo and video montage. Similarly, on Instagram, a feature dubbed “The First Debate" under the Explore tab, aggregated candidates’ photo feeds. Flipboard, the content curation app on which users can create magazines to curate their topic of interest, too started a new channel on its app on Thursday, titled the 2016 Election Central Channel, where users can follow everything they want to know about the candidates and their campaigns across the country. The 2016 Election Central channel is Flipboard’s maiden attempt at creating a one-stop destination for all things related to the US presidential elections.
However, Google search still remains at the top of the pack with its formidable repository of searches. And with Google Trends tracking minute-by-minute, real-time data behind what people are searching for at any given time, it is the perfect tool for both campaigners and voters.
On Tuesday, Google Trends published an interactive county-by-county map of US searches for the various Republican candidates, where Donald Trump appeared to be drawing the most interest in almost every state.
Google Trends also posted a map of the second-most searched candidates in each county. Unlike the previous map, this resulted in a tableau of colours representing the various White House aspirants. And on the day of the debate, it went a step ahead when it provided interactive graphs of the changing ranks of Republican candidates after the early debate and the main debate. No surprises that Trump was the top searched Republican candidate after both debates.
Since Barack Obama was elected president in 2008, social media, along with the gamut of data it generates, has emerged as an integral part of political communication, with every candidate crafting a campaign that is visible, engaging and importantly, influential when it comes to decision-making. This time is no different. If the 2008 elections belonged to Twitter, largely thanks to the Obama campaign and its digital volunteers, 2016 could well be Facebook’s moment in the sun, given its ever increasing revenue from advertising.
Last week, the New York Times reported that Facebook could become a dominant player in the 2016 presidential elections. It said: “Facebook, which has 189 million monthly users in the US, has pitched its tools and services to every presidential campaign in the 2016 races, not to mention down-ballot races, to showcase new features as candidates seek to reach and recruit new supporters and potential donors." The report added, “Some estimate that 2016 will usher in roughly $1 billion in online political advertising and Facebook says it is on track to increase its revenues from previous cycles."