New media affects election

This upcoming election will have more to worry about than the last in 2008. It is something that has been seen since the beginning of our country; each election involves more than the previous one.

Social media has been an important part of society ever since its creation. Over 40 years ago, the first email was sent between two computers that sat side by side. Soon enough, computers were able to communicate through phone lines, creating a bulletin board system. We would not see the first social media site for another 20 years.

The race began with the new millennia, seeing the social networking scene explode, with a new site becoming popular almost every year.

Facebook is the dominant social media service on the Internet today; presidential campaigns need to utilize this newfound power. In 2008, Facebook hit 100 million active monthly users and it has not stopped growing since. On Oct. 4, Facebook hit its most recent milestone of 1 billion active monthly users.

The United States has been one of the top five countries in which people use Facebook since the site’s creation. The average age of the Facebook user is 22, giving candidates a platform to promote their campaign. Any smart political adviser would jump on Facebook to increase their candidate’s popularity, especially if they are running at the national level.

Facebook was alive with posts about the debate. People talked about their thoughts as if they were analysts on CNN, NBC or Fox. There are people complaining and people supporting as the two major party candidates battled it out on live television.

The Internet is a source of power and something that both Romney and Obama should use to their advantage. In 2000, the United States had 95.1 million Internet users and in 2010 that number jumped to 239.2 million. Facebook is the most popular social networking site today, but it is not the only one used in America.

Twitter came around in 2008 with its 140 character limit and #hashtags. Twitter was second to Facebook in May with 555 million users. The site was buzzing during the debate between Romney and Obama ,with 10.3 million tweets from 9:30 to 10:30 p.m. on the night of the debate according to Twitter’s official government and politics account, @gov. The tweets counted referenced the debate, candidates and other related terms.

This was just the first of four debates, and it happened on a night when the New York Yankees played the Boston Red Sox. The Nielsen ratings company said that an estimated 67.2 million people watched the debate. This happens to be the largest audience for a presidential debate since 1992, and this doesn’t even include the number of people who watched the debate live-streaming on YouTube.

It should be easy for any political candidates to gain exposure through use of social media. Eighty-nine percent of Facebook users and 96 percent of Twitter users are 18 or older, essentially meaning that they could vote if they are American and do not have a felony on their records. This does not separate those users who are not American, however it does show us a good representation of the average users on each platform.

The latest Pew Research poll shows Obama is down with 45 percent to Romney’s 49 percent. With three weeks left to campaign and more debates to come, this race is by no means over.

Another close one, the 24th Congressional District race, is a tossup and has been this way for a while now. Ann Marie Buerkle, the Republican incumbent is in dead heat with Democratic candidate Dan Maffei. Both have been putting forward strong television ads, but the third-party candidate Ursula Rozum of the Green Party is using the Internet and social media to garner her seven percent of the votes.

Rozum runs a strong campaign on Facebook. She has her page set up and invites people to events. She has 419 likes as I write this, which is behind her competition, but is still a respectable amount. Maffei has a little more than 1,200 likes. Buerkle is leading with a little over 3,000. We cannot use this as a way to determine the election, but the two candidates having a stronger social media presence helps their chances.

Both the presidential campaign and congressional district race are successfully using these mediums to get their points out there and to smear the images of their opponents.

Twitter and Facebook are just two of the hundreds, if not thousands, of different social media websites on the Internet today. These two just happen to be the most popular and are surely going to impact the elections this year.

This is the first time we can really have the opportunity to see the effect of social media on the elections. We have already seen Obama gain appeal among the younger generations through social media; we will only see this grow. Campaigns will soon be putting their names all over these sites. It appears now that the use of social media has boosted Romney as well. After the debate he is up in the polls of likely voters and tied among registered ones.

If Romney’s people can put together a strong social media campaign, then they should be able to keep this lead into November. Unless, of course, Romney makes another 47 percent comment. The way people perceived the first debate had a huge impact on the polls, so it can still really go either way.

Both candidates need to stress their use of the multiple social mediums to get their points out there. Enough people use social websites today that there is no reason why they should not be taking advantage of these mostly free services. Setting up a like page can be done by anyone, even the candidate themselves, but of course we all know that they have someone to take care of that.

The social media can both help and hurt those in elections. They can show versatility but they can also expose fallacies. Anthony Weiner became infamous for showing his wiener to Twitter instead of sending it as a text. He embarrassed himself and his family by doing this. That is why we hope that presidential candidates do not manage their own accounts and slip-up like that.

It is easier than ever for the average voter to find information on candidates, like a video of them saying radical things in their early days as a politician. Anyone can find out about Seamus Romney, the infamous dog who was strapped to the roof of the family car on a vacation. Yes, I share a name with Romney’s dog. I’ve heard it before.

Social media is going to help decide this election. Many Americans can access political information at any moment through the internet. Smart phones are everywhere. I do not have one, but I know many people who do, and it is easier than ever to get the latest polls or to find the latest gaffe. Within seconds it will be posted on Facebook, Twitter and the front pages of major news sites.

It is up to us whether or not we go with this new source for knowledge. We must also be careful; everything you read on Facebook is not always true. I suggest that you fact check what you read. Make sure that what your Aunt Marge posted on Facebook about Mitt Romney having a great plan for our nation and listing his points is actually what he is planning. Don’t take everything that your liberal friend tweets about to be 100 percent fact.

Not only can the social networks be damaging to politicians, but it can hurt us as well. We are filling ourselves with so much burnable information that we cannot always know what is the truth and what is just rumored on the Internet. It is up to us, the voters, to make sure we get all of the facts before we head to the polls. We must weigh the things we read on social mediums and decide whether or not we are going to take them into consideration or not.

One day we may even be able to vote online. The point is, as our technology develops, elections will develop. It will never be a terrible thing; the development of our knowledge will increase and bring up greater issues to our policymakers. We see firsthand on social networks the power we have as citizens. All it can take is one post for something to go viral.

This is the year of the social networkers to weigh in on politics. For the first time in American history, we will see a true impact on the elections thanks to social networks.


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