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Winning the Web: Presidential Campaigns Face Off on Social Media

Trump and Biden try to reach voters online – but only one seems to be succeeding.

Donald Trump joined TikTok on Saturday, June 1 – and within 15 hours of posting his first short video, he gained six times the following of the Biden-Harris HQ account, which has been live and active since February. A look at the candidates’ X  and Facebook accounts shows a similar situation. The former and current presidents are both vying for attention on social media, but only one seems to be succeeding.

Social Media Madness

By Sunday afternoon, Trump’s first TikTok video had 38 million views and 2.3 million likes – and he had 2.2 million followers. That’s a lot of reach for a 13-second video posted by a brand-new account. Joe Biden’s campaign account, Biden-Harris HQ, has less than 340,000 followers and just 4.5 million likes spread out over more than 200 videos.

The gap isn’t as extreme on X, formerly Twitter, but the trend is much the same. The President Biden (@POTUS) account has been around since January 2021, the entirety of Biden’s presidency. It has been quite active, too, often publishing several posts per day. Donald Trump’s account, on the other hand, has seen just a single post since 2021: the famous mugshot. Despite this lack of activity, however, Trump has 87.2 million followers on X compared to 35 million for the considerably more active Biden-Harris account.

And then there is Facebook. Trump boasts 34 million followers to Biden’s 11 million; their most recent posts also reveal a stunning gap in engagement. The 45th president garnered 120,000 likes for his last direct post, with almost 24,000 comments; Mr Biden mustered just 2,700 likes with 21,000 comments. A greater volume of comments than of likes is generally – and certainly so in this case – a sign that the commentators are reacting negatively to the post.

Late last year, the Pew Research Center conducted a survey that revealed roughly half of Americans regularly get their news from social media. About a third of the respondents aged 18-29 said they turned to TikTok specifically for news, as did nearly half of the app’s users, regardless of age.

The Golden Ratio

For those who don’t spend a ridiculous amount of time on social media, the term “ratio” may not mean much. But it’s a big deal for those who hope to reach people online. Simply put, if a post is said to be “ratioed,” that means it received much more negative feedback – comments, replies, dislikes, thumbs down, etc. – than positive, creating an imbalance between the engagement metrics.

While the replies to Trump’s posts are a mixed bag, one has a lot of scrolling to do in order to find a single positive comment on any of the posts by the Biden-Harris campaign. Look through the comments on YouTube videos posted by Donald Trump, and you’ll see mostly positive engagement; the opposite is true for videos posted by Biden’s campaign or the White House. While one won’t see many thumbs down, or dislikes, on videos posted by the current administration, there aren’t that many thumbs up (likes), either, at least not compared to Trump videos – and the comments are overwhelmingly negative.

In fact, given the comments, the lack of dislikes seems suspicious – and for good reason. In 2021, just a few months into Biden’s presidency, YouTube was outed as having deleted about 2.5 million dislikes from videos on the official White House channel for the Biden administration. By the spring of 2021, the channel had posted more than 300 videos that garnered nearly 3.7 million dislikes. While Trump took to social media like a fish to water – and was embraced in return – Biden was rejected by the online masses from the very beginning.

Lean in, or Run Away?

The constant “ratioing” of Biden’s social media accounts hasn’t gone unnoticed by the administration. In November of last year, Rob Flaherty, a deputy Biden campaign manager, told Politico that they see X as “an increasingly hostile place.”

“It was initially a place that its value was for communicating with elites and reporters and high-information people,” he added. “But it was also a place where politics could move into culture in a real way and access discreet communities like Black Twitter or Latino Twitter or all these sorts of places where things could happen and bubble up.”

But now that Elon Musk owns X (nee Twitter), it’s full of “a lot of hate right-wing actors and disinformation.” Never mind the fact that Biden was being ratioed for the entirety of his tenure, which includes the two years before Musk acquired the platform. Biden and his campaign continue to use the platform, of course, but it seems they see it more as a necessary evil.

Shortly after Trump’s conviction in New York, Musk invited the former president to a town hall hosted by X. Independent candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. was also offered an event, as was Biden. Trump and Kennedy accepted, but the current president declined. In truth, all three may have made the right decision. Trump and Kennedy both know how to make social media work for them; Biden, not so much.

In fact, watching the sitting president attempt to engage with the public in any way, be it a presser, a speech on the grounds, or a post on YouTube or X – whether it’s televised, streamed, or live – Joe Biden seems to have a hard time getting through any public appearance without doing something embarrassing, such as reading teleprompter cues, shaking hands with invisible people, or getting people or places mixed up. In 2020, Biden was practically invisible, running what many called a “basement campaign.” Clearly, he decided to step out into the public eye after winning the election. But, as the saying goes, hindsight is 20:20 – and looking back, perhaps leaving the basement was a mistake.

Read More From James Fite

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