Social media has changed the way we find information, communicate, network, and shop. Now, it’s changing the way we elect our leaders.
Twitter and Facebook campaigns played a much-reported role in the 2008 election. However, this was only a glimpse of what would come in #Election2012.
According to Twitter, 500,000 tweets were posted during all four presidential and vice-presidential debates in 2008. In the first presidential debate of the 2012 election last week, more than 10 million tweets were posted, making it the most-tweeted American political event in history.
Political reporters are increasingly taking prompts from social media. Social media offers voters more information than ever before. Fast Company now advises politicians that “if you are not winning over Facebook fans, you may not win your contest on Election Day.” The role of social media is undeniable and continues to grow every day.
Here are four key ways that social media’s impact on #Election2012 will change future elections forever:
1. Candidates are now subject to 24-hour scrutiny
Presidential candidates have always been in the spotlight, but social media has turned this spotlight into a 24/7 microscope. Every little move a candidate makes will be scrutinized and there is no safety zone. In the words of heavyweight champion Joe Louis, “You can run, but you cannot hide.”
Consider Mitt Romney’s 47% comment made at a private fundraising event in May. The comment was never meant for the public’s ears, yet a video was leaked and the social networks erupted.
There is no such thing as a “private” comment or event on the campaign trail any longer.
2. We now have millions of fact-checkers
In the past, candidates were able to embellish the truth and most of the time these stretches would have gone unnoticed. With the help of various social media tools and content, however, media-literate Americans are able to track and analyze candidates’ every word.
The first presidential debate of 2012 saw a flurry of tweets calling candidates out on their white lies – see the tweets below. Everyday citizens have joined journalists in verifying candidates’ claims and informing their followers – a phenomenon which can really hurt candidates’ credibility if their assertions prove to be off the mark.
3. Influence has shifted from media networks to social networks
The days of Americans obtaining the majority of their election information from traditional media like newspapers are numbered. A study of voting-age social media users last year revealed that 94% now get most of their political information online. A similar percentage of users report being more influenced by their Facebook friends than by the evening news.
“We know that it’s close friends who trigger the most action, ” says Geoff Livingston in a recent Vocus Blog post on the follies of influence.
Traditional media still has a large influence, but now that social media allows every citizen to voice their opinion, the effect on undecided voters is likely to be significant.
4. A new hazard for candidates – online humor!
In the past, blundering candidate’s could expect to find themselves the brunt of jokes on late-night television.They could also expect the humiliation to stop once the ten-minute TV spot was over.
Now, sarcastic memes, tweets, and Facebook chatter go on for days.
“Sarcastic memes could slowly but surely wear down a candidate’s chances,” says a recent NBC article, “cumulatively building an impression that a ‘candidate is a joke,’ which would be hard to counteract.”
As well as a hazard, memes and humor may also prove an asset, offering opposing campaign teams (and citizens) a way to further polarize the vote and convert undecided voters.
While the result of #Election2012 and social media’s overall impact on the outcome remains to be seen, it’s clear that social media has permanently changed politics as we know it.
Image: Freefotouk (Creative Commons)