Social media popular election tool

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Marites Woodbury
MSU School of Journalism

The rise of the Internet’s use as a campaign tool has never been more apparent than it has been in this year’s election.

Social media expert Aiman Farooq said that social media has more power to affect the election more than most think. Farooq currently runs all social media outlets for Michigan State University’s Media Sandbox project as well as the Twitter and Facebook for Michigan alternative rock station 89X.

“Social media has become more than just a leisurely thing that people do in their free time,” said Farooq. “Research has shown that in 2012 social media surpassed searching as the area where people spent the most time on the web. ‘Reading articles’ or other news content has dropped to the 3rd spot.”

Increasingly, more and more people are turning to their social media sites as sources of news for what’s going on in the world.

“While this may not be so true of sites like Pinterest or Tumblr, it can definitely be said about Facebook and Twitter,” said Farooq. “For example, in conversations with people following the death of Neil Armstrong more often than not the conversations started with ‘I saw John’s status on Facebook’ or ‘I saw the Twitter topic trending’.”

This represents a paradigm shift in how we get our news. Social media has gone from commenting on the news to delivering it. With the advent of smartphones, social media can act as a sort of filter, on a limited mobile connection it can be frustrating to visit all the sites one might go to for news, social media can rip the headlines and get the news faster.

“Social media has changed our lives by actually making a lot of readers lazier,” said Farooq. “We have become conditioned to the 140 character message. You have to able to get your message out quickly and comprehensively or readers will get bored. News and articles have to be ‘scannable’.”

‘Live Tweeting’ has changed the way events are covered, the Republican and Democratic National Conventions in particular. Users suddenly have a voice that actually has a chance of being heard with the help of a simple hashtag.

“Especially when trying to engage young people, it’s important to attempt to remain relevant,” said Farooq. “Knowing how to work your social media websites is a chance to do exactly that.”
Political journalism major Sam Inglot said he has taken the most notice to the subtle ways politicians are using social media to their advantage.

“President Obama’s political team has done an incredible job maintaining his social networking sites,” said Inglot. “He has almost 20 million Twitter followers and his Tumblr has been genius in the content that is posted and reblogged.”

Additionally, President Obama did an “Ask Me Anything” on Reddit in late August which received a huge amount of attention, as well as over 200 thousand ‘up votes’ and almost as many ‘down votes’ on the website, making it an extremely high-traffic forum on the website.

“Romney has made a few clever moves in the social media world as well,” said Inglot. “When you search ‘Obama’ or ‘President’ in the Facebook search bar Romney’s page comes up first because he paid for it. That was incredibly, incredibly clever on his end.”

‘Live Tweeting’ has changed the way events are covered, the Republican and Democratic National Conventions in particular. Users suddenly have a voice that actually has a chance of being heard with the help of a simple hashtag.

Communications and advertising senior Mandy Zlotek said she can’t escape the politics no matter where she goes on the Internet. “As someone who enjoys social media but hates politics, it’s extremely frustrating to deal with all of the election news,” said Zlotek. “It is constantly being thrown in my face, no matter how many ad-blockers I install.”

Zlotek said the most frustrating thing is seeing others on her newsfeeds engage in heated political debates.

“There are so many people who love to use social media to discuss politics and defend the candidate they support,” said Zlotek. “They back up their ‘facts’ with infographics any weasel could have made in InDesign in two minutes and cling to it as if their lives depended on it. The most frustrating thing is that I know these kids are all talk and probably half of them won’t even make it out to the polls to vote when the day finally comes.”

Zlotek said that political ads on her Facebook sidebar, promoted political Twitter trends and YouTube videos beginning with political ads have been a constant on her browser for the past few months.

“The only thing they haven’t managed to touch yet is Spotify,” said Zlotek. “And I’m so, so thankful for that at least. Social media only feeds my dislike of politics, and as far as this year’s election, I don’t support either candidate.”

“Social media flattens the world: it puts the politicians on what people perceive to be flat ground,” said Farooq. “The general public gets a chance to feel like they are communicating with an actual human being, which in most cases they actually are. When used properly, social media can be an amazingly powerful tool for politics and I feel like we’re just beginning to realize its full potential.”

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