Purdue University Graduate School
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Social Media in Politics: Exploring Trump's Rhetorical Strategy During the 2016 U.S. Presidential Campaign Within Twitter's Discursive Space

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posted on 2019-06-10, 17:53 authored by Christa L JenningsChrista L Jennings

The prevalence of social media in political campaigns are changing the face of politics in the United States and abroad. The rapid pace at which this change is occurring demands inquiry into the previously unexplored area of unconventional political campaign messaging practices on social media. Investigation of Donald Trump’s use of tweets as rhetorical strategy in the discursive space of Twitter during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign revealed a bypass of traditional media and its source verification processes. This circumventing of mainstream media channels facilitated Trump’s deployment of an unchecked ‘broken system’ narrative alleging government corruption

and a rigged system. Trump’s tweet discourses tapped into existing feelings of disenfranchisement and disaffection felt by a self-identified politically marginalized segment of society. This study

investigates how social media use in political campaigns can serve as a public sphere for contestation of social and political norms. An interdisciplinary theoretical frame comprised of Feenberg’s critical theory of technology, McLuhan’s media ecology, Fraser’s counterpublic spheres, and Iser’s implied reader offer new understandings about the power of anti-establishment discourses and a hybrid discursive space to destabilize governing institutions and redefine social and political identities. Study of Trump’s tweets as rhetorical strategy granted insights into the social and political capacity of alternative truth to undermine the political process. Further, it uncovered the power of social media to awaken and leverage existing political identities for personal political gain.


Degree Type

  • Master of Arts


  • Communication

Campus location

  • Fort Wayne

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Steven A. Carr

Additional Committee Member 2

Michelle Kearl

Additional Committee Member 3

Marcia Dixson