Thursday, April 19, 2012

Social media: problem or panacea?

In 2011, the Brookings Institution hosted a discussion on three possible ways social media could potentially impact the 2012 presidential election.  They posited social media could spur civic involvement in the following ways: 1) social networks act as trust filters for politically interested individuals, so greater use of this tool would engender greater political effectiveness, 2) social media will act as a grassroots network for the public to voice their opinions and promote their ideas, and 3) politicians can/will utilize geo-location and behavioral advertising to better target and galvanize voters. 

So, has social media impacted public involvement in politics over the past year? According to a recent NPR story and Pew Research Center data, only 2% of people sought election news from Twitter, 3% from YouTube, and 6% from Facebook.  Thus, when it comes to political news voters still rely on old media for their information. 

Should we assume that the large push toward social media will peter out, with this finding? Is social media useless in the political realm? No--while social media may not be a large news source for many individuals, I believe it will serve dual functions in the next election, both of which serve politicians. First, social media will help elected officials target opinion in hyper-local ways, strengthening their campaign strategy. Second and perhaps more importantly, candidates will be able to respond to not only public concerns more quickly, but also to attacks from the other side.  This lightening quick response rate was seen recently with the back-and-forth discussion between President Obama and Mitt Romney over a "woman's right to work." As noted by an NPR guest columnist, is the news cycle shortening to mere moments?  Only time will tell to see what social media's role will be in the 2012 election, political civility and polarization in our elected bodies. 


  1. I look forward to seeing more data on the effects of social network sites on the 2012 campaigns. The sector of civic involvement I am most interested in is the idea of grassroots networking combined with geo-location and behavioral advertising. Social networking sites like Facebook do a good job of absorbing information about personal taste and opinion and creating advertisements and general messages that would best suit that individual. It will only be a matter of time until candidates are successfully using this tool to match their platforms with individual voters that could have similar interests. Furthermore the idea of receiving input and creating a connection with voters is something that will definitely help candidates express their opinions and address concerns and criticisms in a new light. I agree with Mim and can only see these percentages increasing after future elections.

  2. I think social media will have a large role in the upcoming campaign. I think innovative ways to send a message across will always be effective. While it might have negative effects of sometimes oversimplifying narratives, can't that be a good thing for candidates? If a candidate can pack their message into 120 characters for a tweet, it's much more digestible for the average American. While the packaging can be difficult, it bears an important aspect of gaining support.

  3. Mastering campaigning in the realm of social media is a must for any presidential campaign. Social Media allows candidates to simply their messages and blast to the masses. These messages will also hold candidates more accountable as sites like Twitter require very short statements, taking out a lot of the grey area on policy stances. By allowing a more open and direct dialogue between candidates and constituents, social media will continue to hold candidates accountable.