October 23, 2012

Facebook Politics: How social media affect constituencies and the upcoming election

By Michelle Eigenheer–

The Internet filled up with gifs and memes of presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Oct. 16, 2012 after the former Massachusetts governor told viewers that he’d made an effort as governor to hire more females and was presented with “binders full of women.”

“During election season there are constantly quotes, statistics, political cartoons and video advertisements, analysis on the candidates and pretty much everything that was once restricted to television and newspapers floating around on social networking sites, “ said senior English and humanities major Emily Hendrick, “The information is easily accessible and impossible to avoid.”

The way that people come by their political knowledge is different from most elections in the past. Outlets like Twitter allow people to post real-time updates of what they’re watching in a presidential debate or event, retweet news stories or share their opinions. However, as with the “binders full of women” incident, things can be taken out of context.

The use of social media to find news or political knowledge takes out the journalistic filter that theoretically removes opinion from pieces, leaving only fact. Information can be misrepresented or misunderstood by those who tweet or blog the news.

Social media has another role in politics – bringing the constituency closer to the candidate. With Twitter and Facebook, political candidates can directly speak to voters by tweeting to followers to posting advertisements directly to Facebook walls everywhere.

It allows voters to see a more personal side of candidates. NPR uses John Heckenlively as an example. Democratic candidate in Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District, “Heck” posts news links, “likes” other politicians and asks followers for their support… in his effort to succeed in the Facebook game Millionaire City.

Social media also makes it easier for voters to share issues that they feel are important, as well as their political opinions. This allows Internet users to spread their views in an easier way than previously – fewer door-to-door campaigners and phone banks.

According to a study published in Nature by scientists from the University of California, San Diego, “get out the vote” messages on Facebook can affect the number of people who actually go to the polls. While it has a limited effect, it is still measureable.

Other studies are being conducted now to show that social media has influence in other areas, such as weight loss among Facebook users.

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