U.S. social media and politics - Statistics & Facts

Social media was one of the most influential digital channels during the U.S. Presidential Election 2016. Social media provided government parties and their candidates with public platforms to share their opinions online, directly connect with supporters and have audiences discuss political issues – however, for the first time in U.S. elections, social media also played a major role in targeting specific groups of voters with tailored advertising and fake news in order to disrupt public support for leading political candidates 632436; confusing and destabilizing their groups of supporters and drowning legitimate discussions by automated bot postings 699668.

For the majority of U.S. voters in 2016, Fox News was the main source for news about the presidential election campaign. However, Facebook was ranked third, ahead of local TV and NBC, highlighting the social platform’s reach and influence. Digital news source preference varied by party affiliation, with Google News and The Huffington Post being more popular with Clinton voters and Trump supporters favoring Breitbart and Drudge Report.

Politics are not a favorite or frequent topic among general social media users in the United States but social platforms definitely enabled like-minded people to find discussion partners or adversaries during the recent election. According to an August 2016 survey of Facebook users, most people had a mix of political beliefs among their Facebook friends, and only 23 percent stated that most of their friends had similar political beliefs like them. The majority of social media users in the United States have not modified their views about a political or social issue because of something they saw on social media but 20 percent stated doing so. The same was also true about social media users’ views on political candidates – the majority of survey respondents did not modify their views about a political candidate because of something they saw on social media.

Apart from Facebook, Twitter also generated a lot of buzz during the election, not only because of then-candidate Donald Trump’s prolific tweeting. Republican nominee and eventual president Donald Trump accounted for the majority of Twitter buzz surrounding the 2016 U.S. presidential debates. Some of the most popular tweets in 2016 were posted in the course of the election. The most popular election-related tweet being Hillary Clinton’s motivational words encouraging girls to never give up after she lost the election.

Fake news was also one of the most hotly-debated issues during the election and its aftermath. Websites and political actors which deliberately published hoaxes and pushed misleading information to social networks popped up at an alarming rate and set a tone of distrust for the media during the campaign. From February to April 2016, mainstream news stories generated 12 million actions on Facebook, compared to 3 million actions through fake news. However, from August to Election Day, fake news generated 9 million Facebook actions compared to only 7 million mainstream news Facebook actions.

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