The 2016 U.S. election has come to be known as “the Twitter election,” but there’s no doubt the medium has been seeping into political life for years.
And with B.C. politicians hitting the hustings in the final sprint to the May 9 vote, it’s been having an impact at home too. But what are people talking about, and does it matter?
LISTEN: Jennifer Hollett from Twitter Canada discusses #BCElxn17
Jennifer Hollet, Head of News and Government at Twitter Canada, says the platform is unique in the social media landscape when it comes to breaking news and political events.
She says that’s because it offers a direct connection to politicians that most people are unlikely to get any other way.
“There are a lot of politicians, especially MLAs and the local candidates, they’re actually checking their own Twitter. So by sending a tweet to them, they’re probably going to read it on their phone.”
That sense of connection has prompted big engagement during the campaign, as politicians, partisans, and the general public hungry for news flock to the forum.
Issues and engagement
Hollet says Twitter has tracked five distinct bumps in engagement as the campaign has unfolded.
The biggest, perhaps surprisingly, was on the first day of advanced voting, which she says has been immensely popular — both on Twitter, and in the real world.
The second and third spikes were during the TV and radio leaders debates, when thousands logged on to watch the blow by blow on a second screen. The fourth bump was on the day the election was called.
And the fifth?
“At number five, the #IamLinda hashtag. And this was the hashtag inspired by the encounter Christy Clark had with a voter in a grocery store, and it has gained momentum. And a lot of people who are critical of [Christy Clark] or looking for change in this election are using that hashtag.”
As for what people are talking about, Hollet says Twitter has compiled a top five list of the big issues:
- Education and schools
Numbers from Twitter can also give us a different look at how the leaders are connecting with the public.
Hollet says out of the three party leaders, Liberal Leader Christy Clark has the biggest following.
“And that’s because she is an incumbent. So she has the most Twitter mentions of the three candidates so far. She has 1.3 times more mentions than the leader of the NDP John Horgan. And 2.9 times more mentions than the leader of the Green party, Andrew Weaver.”
Hollet adds Clark has also added the most followers as the campaign unfolded, though the other two have also grown their presence significantly.
She says there’s no way to say whether people following a politician on Twitter are either supporters, or following for information, or to criticize.
But she says a big part of whether a leader is successful online is how well they engage with the public, pointing to America’s Tweeter in Chief Donald Trump as an example.
“That is a medium he’s very comfortable with, you can tell he’s actually tweeting, or it’s at least his voice and he’s not being stage managed. I think part of the popularity of [Christy Clark] on Twitter is that she’s been using it effectively, while in power.”
Hollet says B.C. has also earned as special honour this year, with a set of hashtags that automatically generate a ballot box emoji when used: #BCvotes #BCdebate2017 and #BCelxn17.
“This is the first time we’ve created a political emoji on twitter in Canada.”