Attacks > Support: The Great Twitter War of 2016

Hillary Clinton and her presidential campaign are attempting to employ Twitter to their benefit, but the social media platform has proven to be unwieldy.

Despite being a household name for decades, Secretary Hillary Clinton did not begin on equal footing in the Twitterverse with her opponent, New York Real Estate Mogul and Television Personality Donald Trump. Mr. Trump had a strong following and an entertaining twitter account far before he ever announced his candidacy. In fact, he had a four year head start on her.

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In addition, Secretary Clinton’s reputation as a policy wonk and delivering measured responses do not lend themselves readily to instantaneous responses and 140 character one or two liners. Seemingly well aware of that disconnect, the campaign appears to have pre-planned pithy zingers on deck for the appropriate moment. This is illustrated most famously in her June tweet that simply stated “Delete your account.”

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While clever, funny, and a good use of a short worded medium, the wisdom of of putting the word “delete” next to an image of Hillary Clinton is dubious at best as Donald Trump’s response illustrated.

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Nevertheless, the strategy did succeed in creating a new hashtag for the campaign, #DeleteYourAccount. More aggressive than her initial designed hashtags, #DeleteYourAccount is used primarily by her supporters for attack tweets against Donald Trump, rather than support tweets for Secretary Clinton’s candidacy in its own right.

For statements of support the primary hashtag for the campaign is #ImWithHer, a phrase intended to reinforce the campaign slogan of “Stronger Together,” a phrase that itself is employed as a hashtag #StrongerTogether.

In response, the Trump campaign created the #ImWithYou hashtag in an attempt flip the Clinton campaign’s hashtag to reflect Secretary Clinton’s perceived failing of self interest that exists among Trump supporters while reinforcing the narrative of Trump support as a populist movement.

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The flipped hashtag allows for distinct and parallel conversations. You might naturally assume that  Trump supporters would use #ImWithYou, and Clinton supporters would use #ImWithHer, but you would be wrong. If there’s one thing the internet loves, and is always on full display on Twitter, it’s sarcasm.

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In the above image, three of the top results searching for the hashtag #ImWithHer are in fact negative posts against Hillary Clinton. By appropriating the campaign’s hashtag, Clinton detractors have interjected their critiques of Secretary Clinton even when someone may be attempting to look up what people who support her have to say. It’s a very clever maneuver, exactly because Secretary Clinton’s largest drawback as a candidate is a long history of constant criticism and perpetual insinuation of scandal.

However, before I shower too much praise on the Trump campaign’s devious Machiavellian use of hashtags, there may be another accidental explanation that bodes less well for them. While Trump had the Twitter advantage going in, he lacked Clinton’s organizational advantage. The Clinton campaign established the first simple phrase of this campaign with #ImWithHer and repeated it with discipline. The majority of Trump’s tweets come from the candidate and often in a buckshot of disparate ideas and targets. While engaging to his audience, it did not allow for a central hashtag for all things pro-Trump and anti-Clinton. In that way, #ImWithHer stands out as the dominate hashtag of the election to date and was appropriated by the opposing side’s voter because it was the only one that really existed.

Additional evidence for this theory is that the sarcastic use of #ImWithHer subsides as more directly negative hashtags emerge and catch-on  on the Trump side, such as #CrookedHillary and #LockHerUp.

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In response to the overall perceived negative and exclusionary tone of Mr. Trump and his campaign in general, the Clinton campaign and surrogates made a point to stress the inspirational message her primary hashtags of #ImWithHer and #StrongerTogether were meant to instill.

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On the surface, #LoveTrumpsHate takes the campaign even further in this direction, but in truth slyly attacks as much as it inspires. Equating Clinton with “love” while simultaneously labeling Trump as “hate,” the hashtag is used in both posts of Clinton support and Trump attack.

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Increasingly, and predictably, as the election nears, posts of support are greatly outnumbered by posts that attack on Twitter. While the Clinton campaign has had consistency and memorable moments in the Great Twitter War of 2016, at this point the Trump side seems to be dominating the 140 character “debate,” through clever use of sarcasm and unabating attacks.

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