Sanders and Trump: Power of Digital Communities

The last decade has demonstrated the power of social media in mass revolutions, even if those revolutions fizzle or come to disastrous ends. The Arab Spring, the Orange Revolution, Occupy Wall Street, and the Tea Party all relied on social media to build momentum. Unfortunately, the Islamic State, nationalist political parties, and plenty of undesirable groups also mastered social media.

The current election campaign in the United States reflects the power of social media. President Obama's two White House campaigns demonstrated the effective uses of data science and social media. The campaigns of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump don't appear to possess the same zeal for data analytics as the Obama campaigns, but they do reflect a more organic social media environment.

Bernie and Trump memes on Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, and Twitter aren't designed by campaign advisors. The images and slogans come directly from passionate supporters. Communities have formed, however ephemeral they might be, around the anti-establishment campaigns of these two men.

Online forums like Daily Kos seem to be fading, yet the power of social networks is rising, especially among progressive/liberal online communities. The connections are less centralized and less organized than Red State or Town Hall on the conservative side. Maybe this reflects generational differences.

As online communities gain influence, political parties lose influence. We see this in the United States, as Sanders and Trump embody rejections of the moderate establishment. The extremes are rebelling online. Passions online seem to be reinforced, echoing and growing louder throughout the campaign.

I'm not sure this trend is good for the United States, as the extremes are not where most citizens reside. The extremes are taking over the political discourse, which is only going to lead to greater disenchantment and greater conflicts.

Social media has helped the extreme, passionate, minority of activists. That's the new reality of politics.


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