No wonder legislators appear laser-focused on the power of social media these days. Use of social media giants Twitter and Facebook by politicians increased dramatically in 2020, according to a new Pew Research Center study of how Congress used both to engage with the public during and after the 2020 election, compared with 2016.
The analysis found that between Sept. 8 and Dec. 8, 2016, legislators had 207,009 posts on Facebook and Twitter combined, but that jumped to 315,818 such posts between Sept. 3 and Dec. 3, 2020.
Not surprisingly, Donald Trump was much on the minds, or at least in the feeds, of Democrats. In 2016, "Trump" was the second most common term used by Democrats and in 2020 it was the single most common word mentioned. By contrast, neither Hillary Clinton nor Joe Biden were among even the 10 most common terms for Republicans in 2016 and 2020, respectively.
Other takeaways from the analysis:
In terms of audience engagement, Democrats in 2016 received the largest increase when mentioning the possible election of Trump, while in 2020 Republicans received the biggest boost when saying that every legal vote should be counted or referencing Joe Biden's son, Hunter. For Democrats, “President-elect Trump” got the biggest engagement bump, followed by his strategist, “Steve Bannon.”
So-called link polarization is on the rise. The number of links to popular domains shared exclusively by members of one party or the other increased from 20 in 2016 to 31 in 2020.
Legislators are citing fewer outside links in their posts, driven by a sharp decline in Republicans linking to outside sources, down from 36% in 2016 to only 22% in 2020.
The Pew analysis is based on every Facebook post and tweet created by every voting member of the House and Senate, including official, campaign and personal accounts. That came to almost 166,000 Facebook posts from 698 members of Congress (a total of 1,408 Facebook accounts), and more than 357,000 tweets from 669 members of Congress (a total of 1,438 Twitter accounts).
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