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.