Prof G. R. Boynton
Professor of New Media and Politics at the University of Iowa.
Section 6: Digital Campaign
- Did Russia just hand Donald Trump the Presidency?
- Taking Julian Assange seriously: considering WikiLeaks’ role in the US presidential campaign
- Social media did not give us Donald Trump and it is not weakening democracy
- Trump and the triumph of affective news when everyone is the media
- Tweeting the election: political journalists and a new privilege of bias?
- The dissolution of news: selective exposure, filter bubbles, and the boundaries of journalism
- Fighting the red feed and the blue feed
- Two tribes go to vote: symbolism on election day
- In the age of social media, voters still need journalists
- Dark magic: the memes that made Donald Trump’s victory
The Twitter technology for sharing is retweeting. You find a tweet or a url referencing something on the web that you think is interesting or important, and you tell Twitter to retweet it. Twitter then sends it to all of your followers, to people with whom you are sharing thoughts. It is important to us as observers to know what was being shared and how widely it was shared. What is the reach of this sharing?
Tweets were collected from the streaming API with the search terms ‘Clinton’ and ‘Trump’. The number of tweets per day was in the hundreds of thousands for each candidate. Twitter does not share all tweets through the streaming API so this analysis is based on a subset of the total tweets about Clinton and Trump.
Twitter has given public voice to millions of people concerned about politics, and one result is widespread attention to ideas that find the right place and the right time. In the day before and the day of the election one tweet was spread very widely through retweeting.
RT @whytruy: vote hillary clinton idc if she a liar yall boyfriends lie to yall everyday and yall still fw them so gone head and vote for her
According to Twitter It was retweeted more than 40 thousand times. It was posted to Twitter by whytruy who is a person of color, as the saying goes, and who goes by the name Not Pinkett Smith. She joined Twitter in 2014, has tweeted 7,413 times, and has 15 followers. It is written with the kind of abbreviations that are frequently used in tweets to make the 140 character limit. It is a reason for voting for Hillary Clinton that obviously made sense to the community to which it was addressed. Twitter gives the followers of every person who retweeted this message, and their followers equal more than 24 million Twitter users. One young woman was able to reach a very large audience.
How much retweeting was going on in the final days of the campaign? It was 60% of all messages in this collection. For example, tweets mentioning Trump rose from six hundred thousand to nine hundred thousand, and 60% of those messages were retweets. Not many had the reach of Not Pinkett Smith’s tweet, but the stream of tweets about the campaign was largely sharing ideas.
What was being retweeted?
This analysis is based on looking at the top ten retweets for each candidate each day giving 300 retweets to look at. Almost all could be characterized as either favoring Clinton or Trump and they could be classified as about character or what the candidate would do if elected.
The most striking feature of these retweets was the extent to which it was a campaign about character. Eight were about what a candidate would do if elected. The rest were about character. That is consistent with news media reports about the campaign that were heavily about character — lying Hillary and misogynist Trump — as examples. The retweets were more one-sided than had been the number of tweets. There were 1.4 times as many tweets mentioning Trump as mentioning Clinton. And there were more than two times as many retweets among the top ten favoring Trump compared to retweets favoring Clinton. Almost universally the retweets were reasons to oppose the opponent. The only good news for a candidate was the many reasons people could think of for opposing the opponent. A large share of the negative retweets about Clinton were based on Wikileaks. The organization had a very large collection of hacked emails and tweets, and they used them to challenge the character of Clinton. Four and a half retweets a day challenging Clinton were retweets of Wikileak tweets.
And then: November 9, and 10, and 11, and 12 saw a turnaround. There were ten favorable retweets about Clinton, then 17, and 16, and finally 15 favorable retweets. The total for Clinton was 58 and the total for Trump was 10. A major shift in the balance. And a major shift in what was being expressed. Almost all of the retweets mentioning Clinton were about finding a way to save us from Trump as president. On the tenth a call for signing a petition was the most frequent retweet.
Ask the Electoral College to save us. It was retweeted 18,593 times, and the call spread widely. The count of the followers of the unique individuals posting the tweet numbered 50,703,306. And the next day it was repeated 14,817 times, and the next day 20,851 times.
Retweeting is about sharing ideas, and this campaign saw sharing being practiced quite broadly.