September 22, 2016

Who needs a political party when you can reach voters right on their phones? Credit: Jason Howie / Flickr Creative Commons.

Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders both hold views far enough from the mainstream that in previous years, they would likely have run as third party candidates. Yet, in 2016, they were able to run successful primary campaigns within the Republican and Democratic Parties. NYU professor Clay Shirky explains how social media made this possible, and why it might determine the results of the general election.

Three Takeaways

  • Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders didn’t need the support of their respective political parties to mount successful primary campaigns because they could rely on their supporters to spread their messages for them through social media.
  • In the general election, Trump and Clinton are employing very different media strategies. Trump aims for sensational - and shareable - messages, while Clinton focuses less on mass media and more on getting out the vote.
  • Shirky says that people across the political divide should follow those with opposing views on social media, rather than dismissing their arguments as illegitimate. “Without that,” he says, “democracy is nothing but two warring camps who can’t even notice each other, much less talk.

More Reading

  • Clay Shirky’s Twitter essay on how “third party” candidate nearly took over both major political parties.
  • The Guardian on social media’s role in Donald Trump’s primary campaign.
  • Slate on the Sanders campaign’s debt to social media.

WGBH, Clay Shirky, Election 2016, innovation hub, politics, Internet, social media, Kara Miller

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