Election Online: 'Trump or Monkey?'

Fri, 23 Nov 2012 14:57:00 +1100

'Social media technologies made the US presidential election one of the most instantaneously shared and documented events in history with tweets, jokes and photos surging in real time through internet pathways around the world.'

Did you hear about the hug that made social media history? Or maybe you laughed at memes about Romney's 'binders full of women'? As political candidates toughed it out in debates, went on talk shows and responded to journalists questions, social media enabled users (like us) to capture, engage with and satirize moments of the election race.

The hug I'm referring to by the way, was between Barack and Michelle Obama. President Obama tweeted the picture shortly after the American television networks declared his victory in the crucial swing state of Ohio. Obama’s photograph - accompanied by the words 'four more years' - has set new records as the most liked and re-tweeted post in social media history. More than 3.23 million people have ‘liked’ the image on Facebook (and over 400,000 shared it). The way in which Obama declared his victory by tweeting the picture is also interesting. His tweet went out over two hours before he gave his formal victory address in person, in Chicago.

For many, the rapid spread of the photo and unprecedented number of 'likes' is an indicator of the role social media has played in the US presidential campaign at home and abroad. In the lead up to the election people jumped online to get their news, discuss campaigns, tactics and political gaffs. Prior to the election outcome Mark Graham (The Guardian) asked if Twitter could predict who would be victorious. A high-tech search of twitter for tweets referencing 'Obama', 'Romney', 'Ryan' or 'Biden' resulted in Obama clearly in the lead. ‘Obama’ may have been mentioned more in the twitosphere but the context in which the leaders’ names were mentioned is not specified, so comments could have been negative or positive.

The beauty of social media is that it opens up spaces for conversation across geographical - and often times social - boundaries. While you can watch what's happening on TV, twitter is the place for real time conversation. Obama's tweet was met with a range of comments. On Facebook and Instagram there were pictures of voters waiting in long lines at the polls and pictures of students at the University of Mississippi burning an Obama campaign sign.

A couple of notable online comments came from Donald Trump. In response to Obama’s victory Trump tweeted 'It's freezing and snowing in New York--we need global warming!' and then called for an uprising: 'We can't let this happen. We should march on Washington and stop this travesty. Our nation is totally divided!'. If popularity online is determined by likes and retweets then Trump's meltdown was no match for Obama's victory hug.  

If we all want to have our say online we have to put up with the comments like ‘we need global warming’. But ‘why is it that even though there are no rules on Twitter, it still feels as though Donald J Trump is breaking them?’. Trump for all his tweets, has been labeled a villain – not necessarily for being such a sore looser but for being a tweet pest. Colin Horgan (for the Guardian) says we created this monster – we are all somehow connected by twitter. Just as we can share in a presidential victory as it is realized, we also share in the online culture that enables individuals to claim the spotlight for self-branding, financial gain and fame.

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20th August 2012