I, you, we: Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton word fight on Facebook emphasize the importance of assuming personal responsibility

The rhetorical struggle between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is not only about issues, actions and change, but also about who will ultimately be responsible for everything said. Donald Trump affirms that the agent of change is himself and this is reflected in his language on social media dominated by “I” statements. Hillary Clinton, demurer, downplays her “I” in favor of “we.” However, when it comes to earning the currency most coveted online, “likes,” “comments,” and “shares” Donald Trump’s “I” dominated language gets a higher return on investment. Hillary Clinton should pay heed. She under-exploits the power of “I” language, which seems to be very important in this electoral cycle.

Almost every other Facebook post of the 2413 issued by the Trump campaign on the candidate’s page since August 1st, 2015 includes at least one of the words “I,” “me,” “mine” or “myself.” In contrast, only one is six (less than 15%) of Hillary Clinton’s 1482 posts for the same period mention these pronouns. Although an “I” language can sound presumptuous and grandiloquent, Trump gets a staggering 80,000 likes for each post that refers to himself. There is no harm to him in doing so. He gets just as many likes for “I” posts just as he does for those in a “we”key, that is, posts whose language is dominated by word choices such as “us,” “our,” or “ourselves.”

Hillary Clinton, although uses “I” far less than “we” (one in six vs. one in three posts), gets two-thirds more mileage for each post in the “I” mode. While a typical “we” post issued by Hillary Clinton gets 16,000 likes, her “I” posts get 24,000 likes.

The political discourse, however, cannot be limited to “I” and “we.” Politicians need to convince, mobilize, and win over people that are not yet part of the “we” party. How do the two candidates play the “you” game, which reflects the need to establish a partnership with the electorate?

Here Hillary Clinton seems to play it safe, mentioning “you” or “your” or “yours” far more frequently, in fact in almost every other post. This is more often than her mentions of “we” in posts, which occurs at a 1 in 3 rate. However, the return on investments is not that much more significant, as she only gets 17,000 likes per “you” post, compared to the 24,000 likes she gets for “I” posts.

The game of “I,” you, and “we” is not a mere tactical ploy. It might have important connotations in the long run. Hillary Clinton instinctively clings to the worn and true principle that politicians speaking the “we” and “you” language are more successful. A recent Bloomberg politics indicates that candidates that used in their key addresses the “we” language more often typically got elected.

This is, however, that which is already known. Looking at what has happened in the last year, the wisdom of yesteryear may seem doubtful, and we should pay more attention to the wisdom of today and what seems of tomorrow.

2016 elections poster
2016 elections poster

Sorin Adam Matei

Sorin Adam Matei - Professor of Communication at Purdue University - studies the relationship between information technology and social groups. He published papers and articles in Journal of Communication, Communication Research, Information Society, and Foreign Policy. He is the author or co-editor of several books. The most recent is Structural differentation in social media. He also co-edited Ethical Reasoning in Big Data,Transparency in social media and Roles, Trust, and Reputation in Social Media Knowledge Markets: Theory and Methods (Computational Social Sciences) , all three the product of the NSF funded KredibleNet project. Dr. Matei's teaching portfolio includes online interaction, and online community analytics and development classes. His teaching makes use of a number of software platforms he has codeveloped, such as Visible Effort . Dr. Matei is also known for his media work. He is a former BBC World Service journalist whose contributions have been published in Esquire and several leading Romanian newspapers. In Romania, he is known for his books Boierii Mintii (The Mind Boyars), Idolii forului (Idols of the forum), and Idei de schimb (Spare ideas).

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