Gatekeeping and Agenda-Setting in the 2016 Presidential Election

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Social media involvement in presidential elections is nothing new;  it can be traced even farther back than 2008’s aptly-named “Facebook Election.” But over the years, social media strategy has progressed immensely, changing the landscape of influence for both candidates and constituents. Metrics like political polls and pundits are no longer the only measures of a candidate’s performance in the race. Followers, likes, engagement, mentions, Instagram photos and many more statistics now exist in huge amounts. This gives us a realtime look at what is happening, and what people think about it. With power, comes responsibility – so when these channels are used to promote ideas, communicate with others and comment on events for example, the message sent has a certain weight and influence on those who intercept it.

Candidates act as gatekeepers by pushing content that fits their political platform and image. The audience then interprets that news as more salient based on preconceptions of the source it is coming from, how often they intercept it, and numerous other factors. Since social media is the in-road for reaching millennials, it behooves candidates to stay on top of new channels and trends. What content do millenials like? These channels offer ways for the candidate to interact with new audiences on a grand scale. Hashtags (#FeelTheBern), videos shot with Periscope (Trump’s candidacy announcement) and Twitter feeds are just a few interactive ways to reach millenials or people not using the traditional sources of information like television and newspaper. Social media also allows for connecting with an audience at a more personal level as well (think retweets, mentions, or an instagram like). Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are two candidates in particular who are getting social media right, using pretty much all the majors social networks.

Hillary has even created Spotify playlists to go along with her campaign.

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Although candidates do visit towns across the nation in person, it seems like they could develop a more hands-on approach to connect their social media with people alongside the campaign trail. Bernie Sanders does something similar to this, garnering huge amounts of shares on Facebook. Gizmodo writes:

About a week before each Sanders rally, his campaign sets up a Web page advertising the location and blasts out an e-mail to supporters in that geographic area, asking them to RSVP. The events are also promoted on Facebook. From there, things tend to take on a life of their own.

Developing content that is relatable, insightful and engaging with an untraditional audience through an untraditional platform isn’t easy. The content has to be original, true to character, and must also meet the challenges of each different social medium: character limits on Twitter, time limits in Snapchat and lack of link-integration, trolls, etc. It’s important that social media be taken cautiously when a candidate’s safety could be jeopardized by releasing the wrong information. The landscape for our country’s future election will only become more and more involved and influenced by the social media revolution happening around us.

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