Hillary Clinton’s Controversies, Not Donald Trump’s, Dominated Twitter In 2016

Trump was all over the news, but Clinton's scandals -- or "scandals" -- owned Twitter.

There’s no question that Donald Trump dominated media coverage during the 2016 campaign.

Even coverage of Hillary Clinton was often accompanied by Trump’s perspective on her, according to an analysis from Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy. Overall, Trump was covered 15 percent more than Clinton.

But on Twitter, it was a different story.

Clinton’s use of a private email server during her time as secretary of state, and the hackings and subsequent WikiLeaks releases that targeted her campaign and the Democratic Party, dominated Twitter discussions about the presidential election during 2016, according to a study put out by the data and polling firm Echelon Insights. (Echelon was founded and is run by a Republican pollster and a Republican strategist.)

Echelon compiled data from nearly 2 billion tweets about major news stories in 2016, many of which were about the presidential election. They tracked tweets that mentioned candidates as well as those that mentioned election-related controversies. Trump was the candidate mentioned more often, but it was Clinton’s issues that took center stage among the controversies.

The top controversies on Twitter were bad for Clinton. The most-discussed issue by far was that of the email hacks and WikiLeaks releases that targeted Democrats and Clinton’s campaign. Twitter users fired off more than 33 million tweets on this subject, more than six times the number of tweets recorded on Trump’s biggest scandal (the infamous “grab them by the pussy” tape). Clinton’s private email server was also a big topic of Twitter conversation, with more than 21 million mentions. (A federal investigation found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing on Clinton’s part in connection with the email server.)

Those two stories stood head and shoulders above the rest: No other single controversy, from either candidate, garnered more than 6 million tweets in 2016. Clinton’s remark calling some Trump supporters a “basket of deplorablesnearly got to the 6 million mark, earning it third place among the controversies.

Trump’s scandals paled in comparison. The tape of him boasting about sexual assault, for example, earned just 5.2 million tweets, fewer than any of Clinton’s top controversies.

Other Trump-related issues, including his hiring of Steve Bannon, his failure to release his taxes, Melania’s convention speech plagiarism and Trump’s attacks on people like Judge Gonzalo Curiel and Khizr Khan, didn’t register all that much Twitter attention, even though they seemed to many users like huge stories at the time. Even combined, the Trump issues didn’t generate the number of tweets that the Clinton issues garnered.

What this analysis doesn’t tell us, though, is the intent of the tweets. Did Clinton’s controversies generate so much attention on Twitter because people were defending her? Or was all the attention negative?

It might not matter. Whether people were criticizing Clinton or defending her, simply keeping those controversies alive likely guaranteed that they’d be on voters’ minds all the way through Election Day. There was probably no clearer example of this than FBI director James Comey reviving the private email server issue within days of the election.

Trump’s issues, on the other hand, seemed to blow over well before Election Day. That was undoubtedly helpful in his path to victory.