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Election Watch: Social media's role in determining our next President

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You may have noticed that social media is playing a more powerful role this election season than it ever has before. News5 is looking into how the candidates are harnessing social media to connect with voters and the influence it can have on your vote.

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have unprecedented reach online this election season. They've moved past TV attack ads to buying hashtags. We went local experts for their take on how what's trending online can influence your political opinions, even your vote.

If you're online, you've seen it. The Twitter battles, the Facebook memes and the Snapchat trolling. Both candidates are doing it, but with very different strategies.

"Hillary follows a more traditional politician role," said Laura Eurich, a senior instructor for the UCCS Communication Department. "It seems like her information is vetted more, less off the cuff. I think that's what people are looking for from Donald Trump right now, is that uncensored, in the moment communication that he's putting out there on social media."

Donald Trump has 10.8 million Twitter followers and 10.2 million Facebook likes. "I do think that people are watching for the spectacle of it," Eurich said. "I don't know if that 10.2 million followers that he has translates to voters and supporters."

Hillary Clinton has less of a following with 8.2 million on Twitter and 5.4 million likes on her Facebook pages. The difference could lie in that Trump re-tweets his followers and links to outside articles more often, while Clinton and Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson most often link to their own campaign websites. 

Trump is also consistently mentioned more often. The mentions are not always positive, but according to his own Tweet, Trump believes all press is good press.  UCCS Professor of Political Science, Josh Dunn, doesn't agree. 

"Negative campaigning works," Dunn said. "It works by keeping your opponents voters home. So you have to think there's something similar with bad publicity."

According to a study by the Pew Research Center, nearly two-thirds of 18-29 year olds say social media is the most helpful source for learning about politics. Our experts differ on what that means for sorting facts from fiction.

"There's a lot of people who believe everything, share everything," Eurich said. "Then it sort of builds up and more people start to believe it."

"Of course there's going to be a lot of egregiously false things said on social media," said Dunn. "But the advantage of it is there can be a very quick and instant check on that. Someone else sees it and says, oh this is nonsense."

The candidates have realized social media is their direct pipeline to voters. "It probably won't be as effective as face to face contact, but it might be the next best thing," Dunn said.

While we're comparing social media followings, it's worth mentioning fake followers are hard to count. It seems about seven to eight percent, or a couple million Clinton and Trump followers are fake. Also, Trump came into the election last summer with about three million followers as a real estate mogul and reality TV star.

This election season Facebook has more than 1.7 billion active users, that's a 60 percent increase over the last election year. The number of Twitter users has increased by about 200 million since 2012. 

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