ACLU: exponential engagement following the U.S. election

Fastly powers tens of thousands of websites — including top publishers and social media platforms like BuzzFeed, Vox Media, Twitter, Wenner Media, and Condé Nast — we proactively monitor global online traffic, and are able to draw key insights into how people react to major world events online. With help from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), we took a look at how people have been engaging (and giving).

In the past several months, the ACLU has seen a sustained and rapid outpouring of support, reflected in record levels of giving and engagement with as of earlier this week, they’ve received $24 million in donations, and engagement with climbed to 8,699% above its normal rate. Here’s a look back at how users have engaged during the months leading up to and following the recent U.S. election.

The 2016 presidential debates + election

Traffic to the ACLU’s website during and following the first presidential debate remained normal, with no major spikes in engagement. This quickly changed after the second presidential debate, after which traffic spiked 350% soon after the debate finished. Leading up to the third presidential debate, traffic to the ACLU’s site remained consistently 50-100% above average.

Here’s a brief refresher from fall of 2016 — in the five days following the 2016 US election:

  • ACLU Facebook followers increased by 25% to nearly one million people.

  • 400,000 people viewed the ACLU’s open letter to President-elect Trump on their website.

  • 150,000 new people have joined the ACLU email list.

  • The ACLU received roughly 120,000 donations, totaling more than $7.2 million.

  • Traffic to climbed to 2,466% above normal.

The season of giving

The ACLU matched donations dollar for dollar on Giving Tuesday (the Tuesday following Thanksgiving): they received 20,548 gifts, a 1,495% increase from last year. Donations on 11/29 totaled $1.7 million — up 965% from 2015.

Following a 437% spike in traffic on Thanksgiving, traffic surged again on Giving Tuesday, spiking highest in the evening:

  • 11/29 12:00 AM ET a 212% increase in traffic as Cyber Monday came to a close and Giving Tuesday kicked off.

  • 11/29 11:00 PM ET traffic peaked at 411% above normal late into the evening.

2017: the inauguration + beyond

On inauguration day — after announcing their seven-point plan and filing their first legal action against the president — visits to rose again: at 11:09 AM ET, traffic was 986% higher than normal.

With the January 25th announcement of the executive order to expand the US-Mexico border wall, traffic to surged 496%.

But nothing compared to the traffic and donations that the ACLU saw on 1/28, just one day following Trump’s immigration ban, with donations over the weekend totalling $24 millionsix times its yearly average. We saw a corresponding increase in engagement to their site: as of 11 AM ET on 1/28, ACLU traffic spiked to 1,149%, and kept climbing, reaching 8,699% above its normal rate as of 5 PM ET. Since Saturday, ACLU traffic has sustained increases of 2,000-3,000% above its normal baseline.

Stay tuned — we’ll continue to keep an eye on notable traffic patterns as major national and global events unfold.


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Tyler McMullen is CTO at Fastly, where he’s responsible for the system architecture and leads the company’s technology vision. As part of the founding team, Tyler built the first versions of Fastly’s Instant Purging system, API, and Real-time Analytics. A self-described technology curmudgeon, he has experience in everything from web design to kernel development, and loathes all of it. Especially distributed systems.

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