#Election 2012 and social media
Published: Saturday, October 20, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, October 24, 2012 11:10
Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest and YouTube are all internet-based platforms for entertainment, information, communication, and now the American presidential election. For the first time in history, debates are live-streamed on YouTube and available for audiences to replay on computers and mobile devices.
Social networking expands the candidates’ campaign reach to the farthest stretches of the country and invites the world into the political conversation surrounding the election of America’s president.
By the late 20th century, technology had rooted itself in society and developed a fundamental role in campaigning, particularly for the 2008 election. Bruce Evensen, a journalism professor specializing in politics at DePaul, said that, by the 2008 campaign, “the internet surpassed newspapers as a place where citizens received political information.”
Candidates harnessed the Internet as a resource to broadcast their campaigns on a vast scale, and Evensen said the extensive use of technology in the 2008 election lead to Barack Obama being dubbed as “the first Internet president.”
In the past election, the Internet proved to be a comfortable common ground between campaign agents and the public. Paul Booth, professor of technology and new media at DePaul, observed that the use of social media in 2008 not only increased “(Obama’s) ability to get his message to a variety of audiences, but also to motivate people to vote.”
Research by the Pew Internet & American Life Project follows the incorporation of the Internet in election campaigns, starting with the first campaign website for Senator Diane Feinstein in 1994, to the use of social media by the Obama campaign in 2008. According to the Federal Election Commission, voter turnout steadily increased after 1994, and this evidence that may suggest that the use of Internet by election campaigns has increased the percentage of voter turnout.
The merger between the American presidential election and the Internet made history Oct. 3 when presidential debates were live streamed on YouTube for the first time. Live streaming on the Internet expands the audience viewing the debates and invites younger, more Internet-savvy generations to watch.
Jason Martin, professor of political communication and journalism at DePaul recognizes “less and less percent of people have a television … but (YouTube live streaming) allows them to still access (the debates).”
Martin admires YouTube’s decision to live stream the debates because they have “broadcasting reach (campaigns) haven’t had before.”
Booth initially stated that he does not believe broadcasting the debates will increase live viewership; however, “the debates are then downloadable and easily accessible online … so YouTube works really nicely as a reference for people to become more informed about the candidates.”
The effect the Internet has on today’s voters in many ways mirrors the effect television had on voters in the 1960 election. The debates between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon were the first ever to be seen on television, and audiences around the country had the opportunity to participate in politics like they never had before by viewing in addition listening to the candidates. In data from the Federal Election Commission, the voter turnout from 1956 to 1960 increased from 60.6 percent to 62.77 percent , suggesting that televised debates had a positive effect on voter turnout.
The Internet is no different. The online participation in the 2012 election is estimated to be significantly higher than participation in the 2008 election simply due to the increased use of social networks. In a study conducted by the Pew Research Center, the “proportion of online adults who use Twitter on a typical day has doubled since May 2011 and has quadrupled since late 2010.”
This increase strengthens the role the Internet will play in the coming election because more Americans have the opportunity to participate in online discussion of the issues and share information with a wider group of people.
Social networking sites are the key to “viewpoints interacting together, making a truly multi-ideological viewpoint,” said Booth. In the election, “live tweeting opened doors to new conversations. When we tweet we often forget that we have followers with lots of different beliefs and viewpoints.”
With the incorporation of social media, political coverage is therefore not a field left solely to journalists and TV broadcasters. The public has more power than ever to share their opinions on a wide scale.
From 2005 until February of 2012, social networking site use, according to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, increased by 77 percent for 18-29 year olds. Since the last election, usage increased by 19 percent for 18-29 year olds and 47 percent for 30-49 year olds.
Another study conducted by the Pew Research Center also found that at two degrees of separation, Facebook users could reach an audience of up to 156,569 other users. The combination of increased social media activity as well as a growing reach in audience ultimately means that each member of a social network has nearly unlimited opportunity to share opinions and discussion with hundreds of thousands of people from around the world via the Internet.
While posts by the public appear on the individual feeds of popular networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, YouTube also hosted a live stream of politically relevant tweets on the screen during the debates.
Mike Reilley, a DePaul journalism instructor excited by the stream of tweets, believes “the live feed is great in that (journalists) can measure instant debate.”