Facebook and other social media sites are transforming our politics. Today, when politicians such as Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump or Jeb Bush want to attract voters’ attention, they turn to social media for presidential campaigning. Within seconds, a well-timed tweet or Facebook post can be delivered directly into the hands of supporters and the public at large.  For example, when Jeb Bush announced his intention to run for the US presidency, he used Facebook to make the announcement.

As more candidates and parties flock to social media, it is now easier to analyse a candidate’s campaign, both in terms of messaging and engagement, to determine how effective they are at using social media platform such as Facebook and to connect to their supporters. Knowing how, when, and what a candidate posts on social media says a lot about how they position themselves on the political stage, their campaign resources, their relative social media savviness – and even their personality – arguably all things that dictate where presidential hopefuls will land in polling.

As part of the Ryerson Social Media Lab’s ongoing research on how social media is changing the ways in which people communicate, we have been collecting and analyzing publicly available Facebook posts found on the official Facebook Pages of the four leading U.S. presidential candidates: Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Ted Cruz. The dataset used for this post was collected during a period of one month from January 21 to February 22, 2016. To analyse the posts collected we used the Lab’s automated social media analytics tool Netlytic.  In addition, we also manually reviewed and coded a small subset of the dataset containing the 25 most Liked posts from a two week period between February 2 and February 19, 2016. We opted to study Facebook post for this research as the social network enjoys the highest rate of usage by Americans, with 71% of the online U.S. adult population enrolled.  And Americans are using Facebook to discuss politics. Of the most talked about topics on Facebook (both globally and in America) in 2015, the U.S. presidential elections topped the list.

The analysis and data collection is on-going. This first blog post, in  a series of 4 posts, will provide a snapshot in time into the Facebook posting behaviors of Donald Trump and his team.  Some of the preliminary findings from our initial analysis of  Donald Trump’s Facebook posts, are surprising – and others are reinforcing prevailing views. Over the next few days we will be sharing additional blog posts featuring an analysis of Facebook posts from the other three leading candidates including Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Ted Cruz.

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This project is a collaboration between Alicia Wanless (@lageneralista) – Director of Communications, SecDev Foundation, Anatoliy Gruzd (@gruzd) – Canada Research Chair in Social Media Data Stewardship, Philip Mai (@phmai) – Research & Communications Manager, and Marc Esteve (@netmev) Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Ryerson Social Media Lab

About Author

La Generalista is the online identity of Alicia Wanless – a researcher and practitioner of strategic communications for social change in a Digital Age. Alicia is the director of the Partnership for Countering Influence Operations at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. With a growing international multi-stakeholder community, the Partnership aims to foster evidence-based policymaking to counter threats within the information environment. Wanless is currently a PhD Researcher at King’s College London exploring how the information environment can be studied in similar ways to the physical environment. She is also a pre-doctoral fellow at Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation, and was a tech advisor to Aspen Institute’s Commission on Information Disorder. Her work has been featured in Lawfare, The National Interest, Foreign Policy, and CBC.