Today’s the big day! The 2018 midterm elections have become one of the most diverse ever with a record number of women, LGBTQ candidates and Muslims running. You’ve probably noticed the many TV ads, digital and print campaigns and robocalls attempting to sway votes one way or another, but nothing has been more impactful than the role social media has played.
From the 2016 elections to now, we’ve experienced what social media is capable of and how limitless its reach and effects can be. The following is a list of major events that’ve either taken place on social media to affect the political sphere, or events that’ve affected how social media can be used within it. These are not all of them, but they are definitely the ones that we think have stood out as major milestones.
February 10, 2016
Russians internally circulate an outline of themes for future content to be posted on social media accounts. According to the 37-page indictment from special counsel Robert Mueller, “Specialists were instructed to post content that focused on ‘politics in the USA’ and to ‘use any opportunity to criticize Hillary and the rest (except Sanders and Trump – we support them).’” Social media posts including negative images and false campaign propaganda against then-Democratic nominee hopeful Secretary Hillary Clinton and in support of fellow Democratic nominee hopeful Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders ran rampant over Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. The tension sparked heated debates over the two Democrats on social media and the content generated from those debates opened the door for the Trump campaign to run with a #CrookedHillary effort upon her nomination by the Democratic Party.
November 3, 2016
Green Party nominee-for-president Jill Stein had been making the rounds on CNN town halls, made public appearances and had a steady following and base on social media, but nothing compared to that of Secretary Clinton or Trump. On or about Nov. 3, 2016, just five days before the election, the Russians tried to boost Stein’s campaign by buying an ad to post on the Instagram account “Blacktivisit,” according to special counsel Robert Mueller’s indictment. The ad read in part: “Choose peace and vote for Jill Stein. Trust me, it’s not a wasted vote.” Stein received approximately 1,200,000 of the total popular votes, more than double what she received in 2012.
November 8, 2016
Donald Trump wins the 2016 election and becomes the 45th president of the United States of America. Upon taking office, Trump uses Twitter to break news, feud with critics and even conduct diplomacy. Newsday has created a collection of some of the most noteworthy tweets including his call for Attorney General Jeff Sessions to end the “Rigged Witch Hunt,” “The Fake News Media,” Trump predicts “will be gone” in seven years and his statement that “Collusion is not a crime.”
July 11, 2017
Joined by seven individuals from across the country, the Knight First Amendment Institute filed suit in the Southern District of New York contending that President Trump and his communications team are violating the First Amendment by blocking individuals from the @realDonaldTrump Twitter account because they criticized the president or his policies. The lawsuit asks the court to declare that the viewpoint-based blocking of people from the @realDonaldTrump account is unconstitutional, and to order the White House to restore access to the seven people represented by the Institute. Roughly one year later, Federal Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald ruled that President Trump’s practice of blocking critics from his Twitter account violates the First Amendment.
March 17, 2018
In an explosive expose published by The Guardian and The New York Times, they initially reported that 50 million Facebook profiles were harvested for Cambridge Analytica in a major data scandal. This number was later revised to as many as 87 million Facebook profiles.
The articles sought to outline how the data of millions of Facebook users ended up being given to Cambridge Analytica. Christopher Wylie, a co-founder of the political data analytics firm, revealed the alleged practices to both newspapers. Wylie claimed the data sold to Cambridge Analytica was then used to develop “psychographic” profiles of people and deliver pro-Trump material to them online. Cambridge Analytica has since denied any of Kogan’s data was used in connection to the Trump campaign.
April 10, 2018
After several posts on Facebook and ads in newspapers apologizing for not having done more to prevent what happened with the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Mark Zuckerber appears before a joint hearing of the Senate Judiciary and Commerce committees. In prepared remarks, Zuckerberg said, “Over the past few weeks, we’ve been working to understand exactly what happened with Cambridge Analytica and taking steps to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”
Fast forward to August, where Facebook removed 652 fake accounts and pages with ties to Russia and Iran attempting to exert political influence in the U.S., U.K., Middle East and Latin America. The accounts and pages were divided between four separate campaigns, three of which originated in Iran, of “coordinated inauthentic behavior.”
October 7, 2018
Voter registration reportedly spikes with 65,000 registrations in a single 24-hour period after Taylor Swift posts on Instagram encouraging fans to vote Democrat in her home state of Tennessee and endorsing Democratic candidates Phil Bredesen and Jim Cooper. They are running for the Senate and House of Representatives, respectively. Swift said that while she had been “reluctant” to voice her political opinions in the past, “due to several events in my life and in the world in the past two years, I feel very differently about that now… I always have and always will cast my vote based on which candidate will protect and fight for the human rights I believe we all deserve in this country,” Swift said. “I believe in the fight for LGBTQ rights, and that any form of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender is WRONG.”
What comes next? That’s what we will find out tonight once the polls begin to close. Facebook and Instagram have been flooded with selfies of people casting their votes and there has been a record-breaking number of at least 33 million people voting early with a surge of young voters. If your favorite political social media moment didn’t make it into our article, please let us know in the comments below. If you haven’t already, get out there and vote. Then post a selfie, of course.
Facebook says it removed more than 100 accounts this week from the main service and Instagram over concerns they may be connected to the Russia-based Internet Research Agency (IRA) – the same troll operation targeted by special counsel Robert Mueller in his investigation. Facebook acknowledged that it removed the pages following a tip from the FBI. “We blocked over 100 Facebook and Instagram accounts due to concerns that they were linked to the Russia-based Internet Research Agency (IRA) and engaged in coordinated inauthentic behavior, which is banned from our services,” says Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cyber security policy, on Tuesday.