The digital influence on the political sphere in the United States is nowhere more palpable than in the use of social media. Applications like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are continuously reshaping the way political campaigns are run, information is distributed, and citizens interact with their elected officials. During the 2016 U.S. Presidential election and the 2018 U.S. Midterm elections, social media was one of the digital channels most frequently used by government parties and their candidates to share their opinions and connect with supporters. In 2018, politicians spent close to 1.8 billion U.S. dollars on digital advertising, making it the fastest-growing advertising medium in the country. Political spending on social media advertising further increased during the 2020 presidential election: Between January and May, incumbent President Donald Trump spent 40.87 million U.S. dollars on Facebook advertising and was only surpassed by then-Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg. In terms of content, President Trump was the candidate to invest the most ad dollars on the topic of immigration.
On the other side of the political landscape, social media users not only see, share, and comment on political ads, but they also learn about and engage in political movements. While the low entry barrier and real-time monitoring of news events can be seen as advances in political participation, social media can also be used to micro-target specific groups of people with tailored political campaign advertising. Moreover, the lack of regulation, mediation, and fact-checking by social media companies makes these platforms a direct line of communication, which can promote the spread of misinformation, alternative facts, and fake news. In a 2019 survey, 50 percent of internet users agreed that social media companies should introduce stricter rules for displaying political content.
Twitter did just that in May 2020, when the company placed warning and fact-checking labels on a series of tweets by President Trump. Over the past few years, the social network has not only become one of the leading sources for political and election news in the United States, but also radically changed how politicians, citizens, and the press transmit information. Twitter is by far the most popular social platform among members of the U.S. Congress. Despite 60 percent of adults thinking that Trump’s use of the app as President of the United States is inappropriate, he still remains the most followed world leader.