How much of a role did Facebook and Twitter play in the election of Donald Trump? Since Trump’s spectacular victory, a shock and awe upset unheralded in U.S. politics, much has been made about his hidden Facebook army and the alt-right’s social media campaign against Hilary Clinton. While mainstream pundits and national polls underestimated Trump’s support, social media was the real indicator of the 2016 election. Anti-Clinton hashtags, memes, misinformation, fake news, and extreme clickbait spread so widely during the campaign that many people believe social media played a key role in determining the outcome of the race.
The alt-right, a loose online affiliation of conservatives and reactionaries, spread fringe ideas to the mainstream through social media. Facebook and Twitter were powerful tools in political spin battles, and in the end, as the result of the election became clear on Tuesday night, these new technologies proved more powerful than mainstream media outlets. It could be said that Trump’s supporters used “trolling” tactics to create a brand, a self-replicating political narrative that spoke to the red, rural America that traditional media forgot.
Mark Zuckerberg and other social media founders are now faced with a dilemma. How will Facebook and Twitter crack down on misinformation and fake news stories and at the same time protect freedom of speech? Does social media promote an aggressive and sensational brand of “journalism,” or does it simply provide an alternative narrative to mainstream media? These are difficult questions with no immediate answers.