The Hill has a pair of recent articles about social media and the still-far-off 2016 presidential election. The first, "Trump towers over 2016 field in social media" by Caroline Kelly and Austin Yack, is a nuts and bolts ranking of the contenders based on their like and follower counts on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, as seen in the infographic below:
While Donald Trump does have the lead on two of the three social platforms, I don't know if he "towers" over the competition, as the headline declares. Especially since, as figure of celebrity and public controversy long before he actually entered the race, he had something of a leg up on the competition of getting likes and follows on social media.
While the article closely examines the fight for the top spots, I'm more interested in the players at the bottom of the lists. I mean, it may be an unverified page, but Jim Gilmore has only 200 Facebook likes? That's a total just a little higher than someone's friends and family. Seriously, when you Google "Jim Gilmore facebook" the first Jim Gilmore to come up isn't even Jim Gilmore, presidential candidate.
The second article, by David McCabe, "Welcome to the social media presidential election," offers a more thorough examination of how social media, which was a somewhat novel tool to be exploited by candidates (particularly by Barack Obama) in the last two election cycles, has become fully integrated into the landscape of political competition.
As stated by McCabe, "Social media is driving the 2016 presidential race, as candidates of both parties increasingly view Facebook, Twitter and Instagram as key battlegrounds in the fight for the White House." For example, Bernie Sanders, who would normally be buried by a lack of mainstream media coverage in elections as recently as a decade ago, has a swelling social media presence, which, along with the hashtag #FeelTheBern, is garnering him more attention and larger crowds that would be expected of such a candidate.
Other examples of social media's centrality to this election abound: The recent argle-bargle between Donald Trump and Megyn Kelly played out, after the debate, on social media, via Trump's series of late-night tweets. Hillary Clinton's campaign was criticized and mocked for asking her followers to address the student debt crisis via emojis. And the Clinton and Jeb Bush campaigns have been regularly sniping at each other over Twitter:
Essentially, social media has just become yet another battlefield on which candidates (or their media teams, really) to wage war. And when you're waging a war as total as American presidential politics, you use every single tool at your disposal, including tweets.