Election Special: the vital role of digital technology in the 2016 US Presidential Election

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As 2016's train wreck of an election finally grinds to a halt, we consider the role digital technology has played in the world's most popular unpopularity contest.


Say it like you meme it

This year, memes became a whole new political language; a pernicious bio-weapon that formed a crucial part of both parties' political arsenal.

The Republican candidate in particular is "a walking talking meme generator, coining disparaging nicknames that stick uncomfortably to political opponents and reverberate endlessly in the echo chamber of social media": Crooked Hilary; Lyin' Ted.

The tech world is not exempt. Palmer Luckey, the 24 year old founder of VR company Oculus Rift, recently admitted donating money to a group aiming to fund online smear attacks on Clinton via memes.

And it is this democratisation of language that represents the difference between memes and the crisp slogans that dominated the elections of the past. Because of memes, the language of this campaign is something to which everyone can contribute – for better or for worse.

(By the way, you may be interested to read some of the playground-inspired taunts that previous presidential candidates have adopted as their official campaign slogans.)

About those emails...

The return of the spectre of electronic wrongdoing that haunts Hilary was just about the last thing the Democratic campaign needed in the run up to voting. Add to that the surprise re-appearance of comedy turn, Anthony Weiner, to the stage and you get something that resembles a great theatrical farce.

Weiner is currently under investigation for exchanging explicit communications with an underage girl using software like Kik and Confide that automatically deletes messages once they have been received. Of course, in the digital sphere there is no such thing as absolute privacy; the girl apparently took screenshots.

The FBI have not confirmed that the emails they are investigating – which came from Weiner's computer – were either sent or received by Clinton, which means that we may have just swallowed "a giant nothing burger" according to Richard Wolffe. But with the media desperate for their next adrenaline shot of scandal, this latest lurch has become yet another vomit-inducing turn in the 2016 merry-go-round of ignominy.

Word Origin: Entrepreneur
n. 1828 "manager or promoter of a theatrical production"

A recent article in Bloomberg Businessweek highlighted the importance of influence for Donald Trump; the fact is that whether he wins or loses on Nov. 8th, he has succeeded in building an audience.

By the election, the Trump campaign expects to have gathered 12-14 million email addresses plus the contact and credit card details of 2.5 million donors. Post election, this information will belong to him, not the Republican party.

The estimated worth of this data fortune is something between $36-112 million and Trump may choose to sell. Perhaps more likely, he could use it to launch a new media enterprise or found his own American independence party and take up arms against his previous Republican allies. And by opposing, possibly end them.

The value of this data is not simply financial – it represents support, exposure, and above all, influence.

Summing up

Throughout this compelling, nightmare rollercoaster of an election, the ways we connect, inform and define ourselves have continued to subtly change. Digital media is transforming the way we view the world and it is having a profound impact on what that world will become. This is rarely so obvious as it has been in the 2016 US Election.

All that remains is for me to say, "Good luck, America."

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