Social Networking and the Election

The Chronicle

Blog by Jacob Nadeau

Social networking is relatively new to the political world. The 2008 election has been coined by some as “The Social Media Election” the Obama campaign used Facebook and YouTube to their advantage to connect to young voters, while McCain admitted that he didn’t send emails.

This year’s elections have exposed a more accurate understanding and implementation of social networking by both campaigns, but is focusing on social networking a valuable strategy?  A new study by the Pew Research Center found that 84% of social networking users say they have posted little or nothing related to politics in their recent status updates, comments, and links. Among those who did post about politics, users who identified themselves as very conservative are the most likely to say all or almost all of what they post is about politics. Some would argue that the Tea Party movement was started through the Internet and social networking. After the conservative blog “Smart Girl Politics” posted a video of CNBC Commentator, Rick Santelli’s online television rant calling for a modern-day Tea Party the Smart Girl blog went viral and spurred the creation of hundreds of tea party blogs and social media pages.

On the other hand, Democrats and liberals who use social media are more likely to spread their political views beyond the digital world. The Pew research study found that 33% of Democrats and liberals who use social networking sites say their activities on the sites have led them to become more active. In addition 39% of liberals say their use of the sites has gotten them more involved in an issue. The demographic that ties the largest importance to social media is young liberals between the ages of 18-29. The Obama campaign seems to have picked up on this fact. On Wednesday, President Obama participated in surprise “Ask Me Anything” chat on Reddit where he answered questions form site users. This was the first time a presidential candidate has used Reddit and the experiment was a massive success. The page received 2.99 million views on the day of the event, and received another 2.3 million page views the following day. Even Reddit wasn’t prepared for the amount of traffic the page would get. Originally, Reddit added 30 dedicated servers “just for the comment thread.”  But when that turned out to not be enough, developers added another 30 dedicated servers.

The Reddit experiment, as well as the drop in television ratings at the Republican National Convention are proof that Americans are going to other sources for their political news. Professor and social media expert Rich Hanley of Quinnipiac University has taken note of the shift to the web for political news, “Why sit through the mind-numbingly scripted video theatrics of speeches and endless patter about the speeches when the essence can be distilled in short accounts with links to video and text versions if more information is needed?” said Hanley.

The Pew study also gave a word of warning to those who do use social networking sites to promote their political views. The study found that 18% of social networking users have blocked, unfriended, or hidden someone on a site because the person either posted too much about politics, disagreed with political posts, or bothered friends with political posts.

Although the majority of social networking users say they have posted little to nothing about politics, 36% of social networking users say the sites are “very important” or “somewhat important” to them in keeping up with political news and in a political world where every demographic counts I think we will continue to see politicians use the sites to spread their message.