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Facebook and Twitter played very different roles in 2016 election

Whether Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton wins the presidential election, Trump was the winner when it came to using social media.

According to a report last week from EzyInsights, “Trump’s campaign has utterly trounced Hillary Clinton’s” at utilizing Facebook, and specifically live video on Facebook. Trump used Facebook and Twitter more than Clinton did. But he used the two platforms in different ways—and so did the electorate.

Trump vs. Clinton: native video engagement on Facebook
Trump vs. Clinton: native video engagement on Facebook

Trump vs. Clinton on Facebook and Twitter

At some points in October, Trump saw roughly three times as much Facebook engagement as Clinton, according to the EzyInsights report. He also killed Clinton on both types of Facebook video: native (a pre-shot video that will play directly on Facebook) and live. He has 12 million Facebook fans to her 8 million. And he utilized Facebook more often than Clinton.

Trump vs. Clinton: live video engagement on Facebook
Trump vs. Clinton: live video engagement on Facebook

Yet even with his campaign’s strategic use of Facebook video, it was Twitter where Trump truly waged his campaign. Twitter was where Trump announced his running mate, Mike Pence, and where he ranted at 3 in the morning about former Miss Universe Alicia Machado.

Trump joined Twitter four years before Clinton, he has tweeted more than three times as much she has, and he has 13 million followers to her 10 million. Trump writes about half of his tweets himself (as an August study by a Stack Overflow data scientist found) whereas Clinton personally wrote just 59 of her tweets in 2016. Trump used Facebook for videos from rallies, but Twitter for practically everything else—statements, retorts, and rejoinders on negative stories; unprompted comments on pop culture issues; and many, many retweets.

Facebook and Twitter also served different roles for the voters. And both companies experienced positive and negative attention as a result of how they were used during the election.

Facebook spurred voter registration

On Sept. 23, Facebook made a good case for its influence when it devoted its top banner to voter registration, encouraging users to register online. A subsequent report from the Center for Election Information & Research credited Facebook with a major positive impact. Multiple secretaries of state echoed the kudos, such as California’s Alex Padilla, who told The New York Times that Facebook “clearly moved the needle in a significant way.”

But the site also came under fire during the campaign cycle for hosting fake news stories, a problem that got worse in August after it fired the whole team of people responsible for curating the stories that appear in Trending Topics.

The election forced Facebook to very publicly grapple with questions of who ought to control the news that appears on its platform, and how to keep that news politically neutral and fair.

The vital importance of those questions is proven by a new Pew Research Center study that reports 20% of social media users “say they’ve modified their stance on a social or political issue because of material they saw on social media.” 17% said social media changed their view of a specific candidate. Couple that with an earlier Pew report that says nearly 65% of US adults get their news from social media, and you see that news sharing and gathering on Facebook was key to the election, even if Facebook executives still refuse to classify Facebook as a media company.

Twitter saw lots of tweets, but also abuse

This election was a similarly mixed bag for Twitter, but for different reasons.

The highlight for Twitter was its engagement during the three presidential debates, the second of which was the most tweeted debate ever and the most tweeted day of the election cycle. Twitter saw 30 million tweets on Oct. 9, and 17 million of them were debate-related. Donald Trump got 65% of that conversation.

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Twitter also saw success live streaming the debates: 3.1 million people streamed the second debate on Twitter. (Facebook also offered a stream, and many news outlets used Facebook to offer their own live streams.) And Twitter has demonstrated its value to campaigns: the company said it saw a rise in PAC spending on promoted tweets in the week before the election.

Despite high use of Twitter around the election, there was also high abuse. In mid-October, the Anti-Defamation League released the findings of a Task Force on Harassment and Journalism. The ADL found “a significant uptick in anti-Semitic tweets from January 2016 to July 2016,” and found that the hateful tweets were “disproportionately likely” to come from Trump supporters. In total, the ADL found 2.6 million tweets containing anti-Semitic hate speech, earning an estimated 10 billion impressions.

Twitter trolls and vitriol on the platform (certainly not just anti-Semitic) had long been a problem for Twitter, but it came to the fore with the acrimonious election, and reportedly was even part of the reason potential bids to buy Twitter fell through. After a rumored acquisition offer from Salesforce.com never came, Jim Cramer of CNBC claimed that bidders were “seeing the hatred… I know that Salesforce was very concerned about this notion.”

It isn’t certain whether the sale of Twitter fell through because of abusive tweets or because of deeper problems with its business model and its ability to grow revenue, but one could argue that the election was a net negative for the company. Its success as a public company is still not guaranteed.

Facebook, on the other hand, isn’t about to face the firing squad over its problems with hosting news (despite how much that conflict may interest the media) and comes out of the election having only further reinforced its popularity and importance to the voting public.

Daniel Roberts is a writer at Yahoo Finance, covering sports business and technology. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite.

Read more:

The good and the bad of streaming the debates on Twitter and Facebook

More options to stream the debates than ever, but TV still wins

What it was like to listen to Trump and Clinton debate on the radio

Yes, Facebook is a media company