At some point this year, you probably found yourself racing to check Twitter. Whether it was to tweet your support for victims of a terrorist attack, keep up with the Rio Olympic Games, or simply peep President-elect Donald Trump's latest outburst, Twitter held our attention throughout the year perhaps more than any other social media network. While 2016 had more than a few crazy moments, much of the craziness played out directly on Twitter. This year the social media network celebrated 10 years of tweets and it looks – and functions – a bit differently than it did when Twitter creator Jack Dorsey sent the first tweet. Make no mistake: Twitter changed 2016 in ways we're only beginning to understand.
While Twitter had come a long way since its early days, the 2016 presidential election was what really pushed the microblogging network to the forefront of our collective national consciousness. Although Twitter was already a fantastic resource for keeping up with news from around the world (thanks to the journalists and analysts who tirelessly tweet updates), the social media network's importance to this year's presidential election made it a place where news was not only reported but also created.
In 2016, presidential candidates live-tweeted the primaries, Twitter live streamed the presidential debates (adding a new level of voter interaction), and voters celebrated and mourned major victories and losses together in 140 characters or less. With presidential candidates using Twitter to take their message directly to voters, 2016 showed us just how impactful a single tweet can be. In fact, Trump has identified Twitter as a key component to his election win.
"The fact that I have such power in terms of numbers with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.," Trump told Lesley Stahl during an interview on CBS’ 60 Minutes in November. "I think it helped me win all of these races where they're spending much more money than I spent."
Throughout 2016, Trump's use of Twitter was unmatched and unprecedented. And as President in 2017, when he'll take control of the @POTUS account, we can expect the way he communicates to the public to be unlike anything we've ever seen.
Throughout 2016, tweets from Sen. Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, and Trump did more than just make news headlines; they shaped national debates and made Twitter a topic of conversation among even non-Twitter users. With President-elect Trump yet to hold a press conference since July, Americans are now paying close attention to what he tweets, looking to the social media platform for signals of what to expect under a Trump administration.
In many ways, Twitter played a significant role in shaping media coverage of not only the presidential election, but also the Rio Olympics; tweets from Olympic athletes, high-profile spectators and Rio locals sparked or drove conversations and reporting on the Games. For example, it was a tweet that skyrocketed gymnast Simone Biles' kiss from actor Zac Efron into the media stratosphere.
While the presidential election of 2016 may have certainly changed how many of us look at Twitter, it's not so much that 2016 changed Twitter, but rather that Twitter left an undeniable mark on 2016.