Big Data

A data visualization of Trump trends on social media

The internet is on fire with conversation about the next president of the United States. Twitter data illuminates Trump's trending topics and shows just how partisan the online conversation really is.

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Image: Affinio

The presidency was always his to lose. Twelve short months ago a legion of presidential candidates criss-crossed the snowy cornfields of Western Iowa, hoping to snuff the flame of momentum kindled by Donald Trump. This week, driven by a social media-powered campaign that torched the competition as well as political norms, Mr. Trump will become the president of the United States.

TechRepublic followed the campaign and documented the rising influence of big data and social media in politics. The barebones Trump campaign had a limited internal infrastructure, a powerful slogan, and a Twitter account. His competition was armed with millions in contributions that funded high-tech data tools and apps, vertical social media teams, and sophisticated microtargeting tactics. During the Republican primary and the general election, candidates like Ted Cruz and Hillary Clinton used technology to pinpoint voters and precision-craft get-out-the-vote efforts.

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Image: Affinio

None of it worked. In perhaps the first post-policy election, Trump's massive traditional media and online strategy, coupled with a memorable slogan, stoked support from millions of engaged voters. Support along the way from from bots and spam, and from alleged Russian hacking, only reinforced the primary lesson of the campaign: The message matters.

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On the eve of Donald Trump's presidential inauguration, online conversation is fiery. In a study of Twitter conversations about the next president conducted with data firm Affinio, TechRepublic discovered that Trump dominates conversation across all major demographic profiles, including teen pop culture consumers, R&B fans, hardcore political partisans, journalists, and gamers.

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Image: Affinio

We've used Affinio's platform in previous posts to examine online conversation about cybersecurity. Affinio is a data science company that extracts cultural insights from the Twitter firehose API. "We examine the interconnectedness, relevancy, psychographics, geographics, demographics, and the formation of interest-based communities around [topics]," said company spokesperson Maura Woodman.

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In the week prior to the inauguration the Affinio poll sampled data from 147,704 Twitter users. Our study identified and labeled the most influential groups, how those groups talked to each other, and the trending topics and influencers. Unsurprisingly we learned that Mr. Trump's core online audience is also at the heart of pop culture Twitter chatter. Pop culture media outlets and enthusiasts drive mentions of Trump, the campaign, and the inauguration.

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Image: Affinio

The topics discussed by the overall sample group were Trump, Obama, President, Inauguration, Clinton, Immigration, Technology, Cybersecurity, and Visa. Hardcore political partisans on the right and on the left are the most isolated islands of conversation. Moderate liberal and conservative groups are generally isolated, but hardcore factions are the most segregated groups in our study. Neither partisan wing is likely to be influenced by or speak with the other. Conversely, both comedy lovers and gamers frequently interact with mainstream news consumers, journalists, Democrats, and each other.

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Image: Affinio

Those who discussed Trump with positive content notably mentioned the hashtags MAGA, God, America, Christian, Conservative, husband, patriot, and politics. In the United States these groups Tweeted primarily from the Northeast, Los Angeles, and the Deep South.

Trump's opposition is vocal on Twitter and is concerned with Trump's "legitimacy" and his potential Kompromat status. Liberal groups on Twitter are using hashtags that include Russia, Putin, Notmypresident, Merylstreep, and Electoralcollege. The top news and media influencers were Glenn Greenwald, Democracy Now, The Intercept, WikiLeaks, Bernie Sanders, Jeremy Swahili, Mother Jones, ACLU National, Shaun King, and Naomi Klein.

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"The audience on Twitter isn't totally representative of the entire web," Woodman said in a recent interview with TechRepublic. "But [Twitter data] is still really useful." Social media data about Trump helps better understand how the right brand by the right messenger can have a huge impact on the market, she explained. Looking at patterns and how groups communicate—particularly the isolation of partisan groups—could help explain the perceived "upset" of Trump's victory and the disconnect between media and the electorate. "Companies should use social media analytics as a window to the audience," she said.

Read more

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About Dan Patterson

Dan is a Senior Writer for TechRepublic. He covers cybersecurity and the intersection of technology, politics and government.

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