Five internet powerbrokers who could shape the election

Five internet powerbrokers who could shape the election
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The presidential election is increasingly being waged online, giving an outsized influence to Internet powerbrokers.

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Social media has become one of the most powerful ways to reach voters, with candidates in both parties using the technology to raise money, distribute ads and win over supporters. Online news and video sites, meanwhile, have become a place where the campaigns compete to “drive the narrative” with their preferred storylines.

Here are five online influencers who could make their presence felt in the 2016 race.

Mark Zuckerberg

Politics have become a dominant topic of discussion on Facebook, with users expressing support for candidates by sharing stories and videos. 

The centrality of the social media site to the political process has given the company’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, a platform to share his own political views. 

Zuckerberg made headlines last week when he appeared to repudiate GOP presidential front-runner Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse Democrat slams Donald Trump Jr. for ‘serious case of amnesia’ after testimony Skier Lindsey Vonn: I don’t want to represent Trump at Olympics Poll: 4 in 10 Republicans think senior Trump advisers had improper dealings with Russia MORE and his vow to finish building a wall on the Mexican border. But Zuckerberg’s real power rests with the product he created, which is used by about seven in 10 Americans. 

Facebook is a key outreach, recruiting and advertising tool for presidential candidates, and it is a primary distribution hub for the political news media. It is also where much of the political debate between voters is taking place.

Back on March 15, Facebook said the month had seen nearly 650 million interactions with posts about presidential candidates — including likes, posts, comments and shares. Twitter, Snapchat and other social media tools are also playing a role in the race, but they do not have the reach of Facebook. 

Matt Drudge 

The man behind the Drudge Report still has one of the most powerful news platforms on the Internet, with the ability to push stories into the political bloodstream.

Drudge is widely seen as sympathetic to Donald Trump, often aggregating and promoting stories that are favorable to the businessman’s candidacy. Back in February, the site declared Trump the GOP nominee in a banner headline.

Trump, in turn, has praised Drudge repeatedly. In August, he touted a reader poll on the site that he had won the first GOP debate.

“I’m not saying I won, I’m just telling you polls that came out from Drudge,” he said. “What’s better than Drudge? He’s a fantastic guy. What he’s built is unbelievably respected.” 

Drudge pushed the idea that Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzDebbie Wasserman Schultz marks 10 years as breast cancer survivor Foreign agent registration is no magical shield against Russian propaganda Let Trump be Trump and he'll sail through 2020 MORE's (R-Texas) campaign had cheated its way to a delegate sweep at the Colorado Republican convention. The attacks broke through on social media, according to the Washington Post, as Trump began arguing that the system is “rigged” against him. 

“In about the past month, the Drudge Report has basically become the attack site for the Trump campaign,” Cruz said. “So every day they have the latest Trump attack."

John Oliver 

The comedian’s lengthy, cutting explorations of topics in (or out of) the news cycle air first on HBO, but have made a lasting mark on YouTube. 

Segments from Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight” — heavy on research, quick pacing and deprecating jokes — frequently go viral, generating attention for topics as varied as net neutrality and corruption at the soccer organization FIFA.

Now, he’s turning his sights on the 2016 election. He devoted a full episode of his half-hour program to Donald Trump, calling him “a bulls**t artist.” As part of the takedown, he noted that Trump’s original family name was the less-regal sounding Drumpf. 

“We cannot keep getting blinded by the magic of his name,” Oliver said. “We need to see him through fresh eyes.” He ended the episode in front of a massive light-up sign with the name while declaring, “Mr. Trump, I await your lawsuits in the morning.” He now sells hats that say “Make Donald Drumpf Again,” a parody of Trump’s famous campaign slogan. 

Arianna Huffington

Arianna Huffington created one of the first sustainable online-only publications back in 2005, and the liberal site remains a top trafficked site for political news as the 2016 election marches forward.

The Huffington Post last year took the controversial step of putting all Donald Trump news under its "entertainment" section before reversing course last December.

But even when dropping that policy, Huffington wrote that Trump’s campaign had become “an ugly and dangerous force in American politics. So we will no longer be covering his campaign in Entertainment. But that’s not to say we’ll be treating it as if it were a normal campaign.”

The site now affixes an editors note to every Trump story that reads: “Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.”

At one point in February, a Huffington Post banner declared that Trump had “gone racist.” 

Trump has fired back, calling the site a “clown show” and a “glorified blog.”

ComScore ranked the Huffington Post’s politics page as the top trafficked political news site last December, with 25 million unique visitors, though some rival outlets have questioned the site’s traffic numbers.

Erin Hill, ActBlue executive director

Erin Hill is the executive director of ActBlue, a company started in 2004 that provides online fundraising software to Democratic candidates. 

The company is processing more donations than ever before thanks to the record-breaking fundraising of Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersSchumer: Franken should resign Franken resignation could upend Minnesota races Avalanche of Democratic senators say Franken should resign MORE. The company allows a donor to register and donate small amount of money to any candidate that is using the software, which includes hundreds of Senate, congressional and state campaigns.  

In February, the company processed nearly $59 million from about 2 million donors. In March, it processed a record more than $72 million from 2.4 million donors. An article in the Los Angeles Times noted that its software was not historically used by major presidential campaigns. While Sanders is using ActBlue, Democratic front-runner Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonGrassley blasts Democrats over unwillingness to probe Clinton GOP lawmakers cite new allegations of political bias in FBI Top intel Dem: Trump Jr. refused to answer questions about Trump Tower discussions with father MORE is using her own online fundraising tools.  

Sanders showed off the power of online fundraising the night of his primary win in New Hampshire. During his speech, he called on people to go online immediately and donate to his campaign, which overwhelmed the ActBlue site.