On an average day, US President Donald Trump sends about 14 posts to the 28 million Facebook followers of his campaign account. His Democratic rival, Joe Biden, delivers about half that many posts to an audience of just 2 million.
The numbers are similarly skewed in other spheres of the social media landscape. On Twitter, Trump’s 82.4 million followers dwarf Biden’s 6.4 million. The president has spent years cultivating a ragtag digital “army” of meme makers and political influencers who retweet campaign messages hundreds of times daily. Trump is outspending Biden on Google and YouTube advertising by nearly 3 to 1.
As his reelection bid faces growing obstacles, his primacy in the dizzying digital world is one of his top advantages, giving him a massive platform to connect with supporters and push a message that ignores his vulnerabilities related to the pandemic, unemployment and race relations. Biden and his allies are now working feverishly to establish a social media force of their own.
For the first time, Biden outspent Trump on Facebook advertising in June, pouring twice as much money into the platform as the president. His campaign is recruiting Instagram supporters to hold virtual fundraisers. And it’s plotting ways to mobilize the power of hundreds of teens on TikTok who reserved tickets for Trump’s recent Oklahoma campaign rally and took credit for sinking the event by artificially inflating the crowd count before it began.
Head start Trump
Trump’s head start may be tough to overcome. “Vice President Biden and Trump have very different challenges right now,” said Tara McGowan, the founder of liberal digital firm Acronym and former digital director for the Democratic super PAC Priorities USA during the 2016 campaign. “Trump needs to hold his base … and Vice President Biden needs to define and in a lot of ways introduce himself to you new voters, and potential supporters.”
But Trump’s unimpeded access to the digital microphone is facing its limits. Twitter is beginning to fact check Trump’s posts, including one that made unfounded claims that mail-in voting would lead to fraud. The company also alerted users when the president posted a manipulated video, and it hid his Twitter threat about shooting looters in Minneapolis.
Under pressure in June as major companies yanked advertising from its site, Facebook promised it would label Trump posts when they break rules around voting or hate speech. Video messaging platform Snapchat last month also said it would keep the president’s account active and searchable but would stop showcasing his profile on the platform. And in a move to clamp down on hate and violent speech, the online comment forum Reddit decided to ban one of the president’s most prolific fan forums, The_Donald.
Trump and Biden have strikingly divergent tactics on social media. A centrepiece of Trump’s digital efforts is the Team Trump Online! nightly live broadcasts streamed on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Twitch, an online streaming platform. The broadcasts feature top Trump surrogates including daughter-in-law Lara Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.
Trump also tweets with far greater velocity, sending more than 160 Twitter messages during a seven-day period starting June 14, an Associated Press analysis of Trump and Biden’s accounts reveals. More than 50 of Trump’s posts were retweets from an assortment of users that included the US Army, far-right meme makers, conservative news outlets, little-known congressional candidates and anonymous accounts that in some cases promoted conspiracy theories.