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Our View: Internet, politics a double-edged sword

Published: Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, October 31, 2012 10:10

political cartoon

David Barrentine

A single Facebook message can go a long way.

According to a Sept. 12 article by the Financial Times, the University of California at San Diego conducted a study during the 2010 mid-term elections, which found a single message displayed at the top of the social media’s home page encouraging people to vote led to an increased voter turnout of about 340,000.

This year’s presidential election, pitting President Obama against Republican nominee Mitt Romney, is seen by many as the first true social media election.

With the embracing of Twitter by about 142 million Americans and Facebook’s nearly 1 billion users, the way politicians get their message out to voters has changed drastically.

According to an article by the Calgary Herald titled “Social Media fuels U.S. election snark less than two weeks before vote,” the total number of tweets relating to the 2008 election equals only six minutes of tweets from this year’s cycle.

As of Tuesday, President Obama had just more than 21 million followers on Twitter to Romney’s 1.6 million, while the president boasted 31.5 million likes on Facebook to Romney’s 11 million.

It has also changed the way we communicate and share our beliefs with others.

In an instant now, we can let almost everyone we know hear our thoughts, both amusing and serious, about a presidential debate, a campaign ad or an article about a topic we are passionate about.

It also gives us a soapbox to air out grievances we have with politicians or to argue with those who don’t agree with us on certain issues.  
Social media fuels a knee jerk society where anyone can click the “post” button without a second thought to do research into the story or meme they’re sharing.

These unfiltered displays make both the campaign and our favorite social media sites unappealing, resulting in potential voters distancing themselves from an important moment for our country.

Sixty-one million American Facebook users saw the pro-vote message in 2010, and in a time when it is hard to be friendly about such a serious topic, its results are an example of the positive effects social media and the Internet can have.

Even without the Internet, elections have and always will be divisive. But that doesn’t mean we can’t make the process a little more tolerable.


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