NUI Galway Study Examines ‘Realities’ of Tweets from US Presidential Election Campaign 2016

Sep 25 2017 Posted: 14:13 IST

NUI Galway study looks to understand how Twitter is shaping the new political landscape

New research from NUI Galway explores the ‘realities’ contained within the tweets of several American presidential nominees from three of the main political parties in the United States: Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and Jill Stein in the months leading up to Election Day on 8 November 2016.

The research, which has been published by the International Conference on Information Systems (2017) in Seoul, South Korea, is one of the first studies to use a magical realism perspective to examine the manner with which several main 2016 US presidential election candidates used Twitter as a tool for strategic storytelling and creating specific narratives for their electorate.

Magic realism is a literary style used by writers to portray irony, surreal fantasy and hyperbole within their narratives in a realistic way. Consequently, the reader’s ability to distinguish between fiction and reality becomes blurred. Magical realism has appeared in print with increasing frequency over the last few decades, appearing in a vast number of television advertisements and in the popular press. The results show that Twitter served as an effective power knowledge transfer medium for the several presidential nominees by enabling them to create political narratives which were underpinned by specific magical realism techniques.

Dr Trevor Clohessy, lead author of the study and post-doctoral researcher from the J.E. Cairnes School of Business and Economics at NUI Galway, said: “Political actors are now eager to catch Twitter users’ attention, because they not only produce word-of-mouth effects but influence other online users’ informational choices. In this sense, Twitter users are not just passive information recipients. Rather, they are conceived as power shareholders who control information flow through their interaction with mainstream media.

“Existing research suggests that users’ experiences of the credibility of a social medial platform affect their perceptions pertaining to the quality of the message being conveyed. Given the brevity and the ambiguous nature of information contained within a 140 limit tweet, users often have to rely on the credibility of the Twitter platform to interpret the extent of the credibility of the tweets being pushed out by the individuals they are following.”

Dr Clohessy added: “The recent emergence of the fake news concept has threatened to negatively impact social media platforms such as Twitter’s credibility as a valid source of information. This is concerning given the power a single political tweet can wield. For instance, when Donald Trump tweeted in January 2017 that Toyota would face a ‘big border tax’ if the company went ahead with plans for a new plant in Mexico, Toyota’s shares subsequently plummeted resulting in a loss of $1.2 billion in a mere five minutes following the posting of the tweet.

“As a final reflection, Twitter was a novelty in American politics in 2009, a necessity in 2012 and predicted as a medium for facilitating a more progressive and inclusive politics for the 2016 Presidential campaign. However, our findings demonstrate that in the six months prior to the 2016 US Election Day, Twitter was used as a powerful tool to deliver messages which were underpinned by magical realism elements aimed at eliciting partisan animosity and widespread popularisation. It is interesting to note that Donald Trump tweeted just 1,904 times when compared to Hilary Clinton’s 2,906 and Dr Stein’s 2,604 tweets. Whilst both other candidates may have been more active on Twitter, the divisive, incendiary and almost unfiltered nature of Donald Trump’s tweets were more successful in generating global media news coverage. The following questions then arise: What role will Twitter play in the 2020 Presidential campaign and in more immediate election cycles? Will the 2016 Presidential election serve as a blueprint for future politicians on how to use Twitter to engage the emotions and the attentions of the electorate?”

To read the full study, visit:


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