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Elections go #digital

Politicians flock to social media to connect with voters

Published: Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, October 31, 2012 10:10

Twitter. Facebook. Youtube. Tumblr. Instagram. Reddit. Any able bodied person with at least a smidgen of tech savvy uses one or more of these mediums daily to stay connected with the world around them. It’s safe to say social media has completely revolutionized the way people send and receive information.

Politicians, in order to stay connected with voters, have taken note of the social media uprising.

 In 2008, then Senator Barack Obama in his presidential campaign, used social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook to bolster his campaign and stay connected with the younger voters in ways his opponent, Senator John McCain, failed to do.

A Pew research study of the 2008 election shows 35 percent of voters said they watched online political videos, 10 percent used social media to get information on the candidates and 6 percent made online contributions to political campaigns.

There is an obvious spike in involvement this election, with social media becoming more and more a part of the way voters get their political information.

In another Pew research study, from June 4-17, 2012, the data shows how Obama is again the frontrunner in the social media battle. In the 14 days the research was done, Obama tweeted 404 times, a substantially larger number of times than Romney, who only tweeted 16 times.

The numbers of posts were more even on other mediums such as Facebook and Youtube, with Romney posting 34 times on Facebook and 10 times on Youtube, and Obama posting 27 times on Facebook and 21 times on Youtube.

In regards to voters’ response to these posts on social media, Obama garnered 1,124,175 likes on Facebook to Romney’s 633,597; he also had 150,106 retweets to Romney’s 8,601.

Holly Hall, assistant professor of journalism and instructor of the social media class, said social media has leveled the field in the political realm to where candidates don’t have to rely so much on paid advertising and news coverage.

“Messages can be spread and brands developed without the almost exclusive use of a gatekeeper (the media),” Hall said.

The free exchange of information on social media isn’t always the most reliable way of getting political information, however.

“Social media itself has also made us very selective in the news and information we gather,” Hall said. “If we are interested in the topic, we’ll download or seek information about it. So candidates have to very carefully craft messages and cover topics the voters are interested in.”

Social media has also made it possible for people to voice opinions about candidates behind the safety of a computer screen without having to deal with the face-to-face retort of a voters differing opinion.

“I think one of the personal observations I’ve had during this election cycle is watching my Facebook feed and seeing the negative, emotionally-laden posts from both sides of the political aisle,” Hall said. “I think people are feeling empowered by being a publisher of information and they also get a sense of personal validation when their post gets lots of likes or positive comments.”

Although there are some voters who are likely to believe some of the propaganda posted on social media, Sandra Combs, assistant professor of journalism, believes it won’t have that great of an effect on people.

“Things can be taken out of context and people are going to believe what they want to believe. I don’t think there are that many undecided voters out there, and I think people have made up their mind by now,” Combs said.

Nathan Shelby, a history education major of Bryant, also said he has noticed more people are voicing their opinions on social media, such as Twitter, in this election than in 2008’s election.

“It doesn’t affect the way I vote. I don’t pay attention to mudslinging; I just look at the facts and don’t let someone else influence how I’m going to vote,” Shelby said.

There are various Twitter pages that fact check the things the candidates say in their speeches and in the debates as they go on, such as @politifact and @thinkprogress.

Another issue that comes up with the use of social media in politics is how to reach the older voters.

“Older voters are not on Twitter like the younger people are,” Combs, who is doing research on the use of Twitter in the election, said.

Youtube has also made it easier for voters to decide what information they want and when. The three presidential debates and the one vice presidential debate were broadcast on Youtube for voters to watch. However, this medium also has its downfalls.

“The thing about Youtube is that you can skip through certain parts (of the debates). The old guard is more likely to watch the debates live,” Combs said.


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