The presidency in a time of hashtags

Posted on Mar 29 2016 - 6:05am by Holly Baer

If Bernie Sanders’ supporters are good at anything, it’s using social media to their advantage.

In the past week, there have been three major trending slogans—aside from #FeeltheBern—that have made airwaves: #BirdieSanders, #BernieMadeMeWhite and #ToneDownForWhat.

During a rally in Portland, Oregon, a small bird flew by Sanders’ podium. He was amused, but attempted to keep speaking. Then, the little bird took a spot on his podium and perched. The crowd went wild and Sanders could not help but smile.

The internet exploded. People joked that he was now an official Disney princess, and others drew political cartoons with pointed jabs at his opponents. Dozens of graphics and illustrations were produced, and the Sanders campaign received a ton of free advertising.

Prior to Sanders’ victories in Alaska, Hawaii and Washington, a CNN reporter wrote that: “These caucus states — largely white and rural — are the type of places Sanders traditionally does well. In order to win the nomination, he must replicate this success in other, more ethnically diverse states that hold primaries, as he did in Michigan last month.” The problem, however, is that Hawaii is less than 27 percent white.

Again, his fans fled to the internet, with his supporters of color posting selflies with little quips like: “Ever since I voted for Bernie, I’ve been bingewatching Friends. #BernieMadeMeWhite.” While the candidate has, by and large, lost the black vote, his non-white supporters are refusing to be silent.

The final hashtag comes from a comment made by a Hillary Clinton staffer. When asked if Clinton and Sanders would have another debate, Joel Benenson said, “Let’s see the tone of the campaign he wants to run before we get to any questions.”

In a move that’s so easy to tweet it sounds staged, Sanders followers—and, possibly more commonly, Clinton critics—have tweeted #ToneDownForWhat, criticizing the Clinton campaigning and asking, “What exactly should he tone down?”

This election season is using social media like no one’s business, but Sanders supporters have made it their artwork. He by and large has won the support of the millennials to an astonishing degree. Our parents use social media, but our ability to disseminate information in lightning speed has made us a force to be reckoned with.

This is also the exact issue that Clinton has faced with her own supporters. Her slogan, #ImWithHer, is more yawn-worthy than emotionally thrilling. It banks on her potential as a first female president, but it isn’t exciting. Sanders’ primary slogan, #FeelTheBern, was not even made by his social media strategy team. They found one used by an activist group and ran with it. Where Clinton’s campaign reads as rigid and overperforming, Sanders’ reads as accessible and real.

It’s almost impossible to know who would actually make a better president, but if Clinton wants to know why she’s not engaging the youth vote, this is a big reason why. Digital campaigning is the future, and she’s created more exploitable sound bites and photographs than useable ones.

Holly Baer is a senior religious studies major from Flowood, Mississippi.