Commander-in-‘Tweet’: Social Media’s Impact on Election

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Anthony Lyen, Tempo Editor

Above photo courtesy of sxc.hu.

The 2012 Presidential Election had its fair share of memorable moments, including Barack Obama’s lackluster first debate, Mitt Romney’s many quotable remarks (which included Big Bird, “binders full of women” and the “47 percent”) and the incredibly close election itself, eventually won by the re-elected President Obama.

When citizens look back at elections, it tends to be through history books. Nowadays, however, all one needs to do is simply look back on his or her Facebook timeline or search “#Election2012” on Twitter.

It has been only four years between President Obama’s first president election and his current re-election, but in that short span, social media changed quite profoundly.

In 2008, while Obama and John McCain ran for the Oval Office, Facebook had only about 100 million users. Now, Mark Zuckerberg’s social networking giant has over one billion users.

Twitter has a similar history. When Obama won his first time around, the social networking site was used primarily by news junkies and some celebrities. Come 2012, it has become one of the top social media sites, amassing more than 500 million users.

With so many people using these sites, social media certainly had an important part in this year’s election.

“Social media plays a number of roles in the campaign,” said Dr. Joseph Gaziano, professor of political science. “It is especially useful for communicating the candidates’ messages to voters, enabling people to communicate with each other and giving their feedback to the candidates.“

Staying connected with voters was incredibly important for the candidates too. Obama and Romney have more than 33 and 12 million likes on their Facebook pages, respectively. The two consistently posted messages to supporters, talking about their views, policies and stances in an attempt to increase public knowledge and sway voters.

Social media was so important, in fact, that when Obama had been projected –– and later confirmed –– to win re-election, he posted a message on Twitter (known as a “tweet”) before speaking to the public, sending the following message to his followers: “We’re all in this together. That’s how we campaigned, and that’s who we are. Thank you.”

When it came to each candidate using social media to his advantage, the winner may have been a little more prominent than the election itself.

“There was definitely more use of social media by the Obama campaign,” Gaziano said. “This is because the primary users of social media are young people, and they tend to be Obama supporters,” said Gaziano. “It was used by the Obama campaign to attract voters, raise money and get out the vote.”

So what about the Republican side?
“The limited use of social media by the Romney campaign was probably because the Romney people wrote off most of the young vote figuring it would go to Obama,” added Gaziano.

Social media is an incredibly effective way for candidates to reach users –– and potential voters –– by the millions. With so many people using Facebook, Twitter and a plethora of other social networking sites, however, there are bound to be conflicting views and opinions that will emerge.

When election season comes around, social media users can expect their new feed to blow up, filled with plenty of political views and opinions. Some are understandable and intelligent, while others are… not so much.

As annoying as this may be, though, Gaziano makes a valid point.

“Free speech is one of the great things about democracy. Everyone has a right to voice his or her opinion whether it makes sense or not,” Gaziano said. “Social media offers a way for people to voice their concerns and views. These opinions get equal voice in social media and are much like the vote; that is, any citizen can vote, (and) there is no competency test to eliminate the uninformed. So, in other words, we just have to live with it when people say things we don’t like.”

Even though watching election night news coverage on TV is still the common thing to do, keeping up through social media via the smartphone, laptop or tablet is becoming just as popular.

Anthony Lyen
Anthony is a senior double majoring in Multimedia Journalism and Elementary Education. Lyen is from Chicago, IL, and his hobbies include hanging out with friends, watching his beloved Chicago Blackhawks and of course, writing. Click here for Anthony's Archives

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