Election's big winner on social media: Twitter

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Election's big winner on social media: Twitter

Twitter may struggle to keep up with Facebook but it was go-to destination for American voters.

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Election's big winner on social media: Twitter

Jessica Guynn , USA TODAY 9:28 p.m. EST November 8, 2016
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Twitter had what could be record-setting turnout on Election Day.(Photo: Leon Neal, AFP/Getty Images)

SAN FRANCISCO — There was a big turnout on Election Day — on Twitter.

No matter whether they cast their vote for Donald Trump, who champions Twitter as a "modern-day form of communication" or Hillary Clinton, who famously told Trump to delete his account, the social media service won the day.

By 9 pm ET, more than 35 million election-related tweets had coursed through Twitter, already shattering the record set on Election Day in 2012 of more than 31 million tweets total.

With its 317 million users and stagnant user growth, Twitter is often treated as an also-ran in social media, lagging social media giant Facebook and its photo-and-video sharing service Instagram as well as the buzzy and youthful newcomer Snapchat — but not on Election Day, when people want to keep up with fast-moving events and entertaining memes.

This election year, Twitter gave users even more reason to go to vote and then go to Twitter, using live video streams with partners such as BuzzFeed. It also gave rise to the election's most popular memes such as Trump's side eye to wife Melania's ballot while voting on Tuesday morning.

Social media is a popular destination for American voters on election night. They fire up laptops, tablets and smartphones — and sometimes all three — to spend the evening in the company of election-obsessed friends and followers around the country. Facebook is the spot where many people seek support and camaraderie from friends but Twitter is frequently the spot where people hunt for the latest information and commentary.

"It comes down to the fact that Twitter is still the platform for what’s happening right now, while Facebook focuses on showing users the things they’re most likely to engage with, which may or may not be the most recent content," said Jan Dawson, chief analyst with Jackdaw Research.

Twitter users also have control over what they see on Twitter, Dawson said. "On Facebook you’re mostly seeing content your own friends have shared, whereas on Twitter you can see anything from anyone," he said.

That includes Trump, who has 13.1 million followers. Trump's predilection for Twitter, and his no-holds-barred, much talked about tweets, put the social-media service on the election map. Even the news that his aides had to take away his Twitter account in the waning days of the election made national news.

Whether Twitter can capitalize on the election frenzy remains to be seen. The company that has struggled to grow revenue and its user base said last month it would cut about 9% of its workforce and shutter its video-streaming app Vine. Doubts about its future on Wall Street forced Twitter to explore selling itself, but no suitors placed a bid.

Undercutting its popularity: Harassment and abuse that are rampant on the service. During the election season, Twitter was also criticized for a massive rise in hate speech. The spread of misinformation has also undercut Twitter's election-season success.

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