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1 Karl Kuno 3/12/14 Mrs. Paventi Block: AC 1 The Effect of Social Media on Politics: Gaining Support & Passing Laws Throughout history, media has taken a major toll on the lives of Americans. As humanity evolves, so does technology. As humanity progresses into the future, people invent new ways to make everyday life easier and more efficient. As people progress into the 2000’s, it is evident in which ways media itself is evolving. This is where social media starts to come into play. Now, with the rise in smart phone usage, people are able to access their personal social media right on their phone. YouTube, MySpace, Twitter, and Facebook, all begin to reveal what technology has in store for person-to-person interactions. These examples as well as many other sites not listed will have become known as social media. This will revolutionize peoples’ ways of interacting and also affect how politicians gain supporters. Today, through the use of social media, politicians have been able to increase the amount of supporters especially young voters under the age of 25 and evolve the way they campaign for elections and passing laws. In 2006, both Twitter and Facebook were launched to the public as social media sites where people could go to add friends online and blog about whatever they wanted. Their friends would be able to read it and would have the option to like their post or comment on it. As time progressed, Facebook and Twitter’s active users began to increase. Facebook went from 1 million users by the end of 2004 to a staggering 1.01 billion by the end of September 2012 (The Associated Press). For Twitter, it was not quite as big of a jump; Twitter went from 30 million on
2 March 2010 to 218 million in June 2013 (The Associated Press). With such an increase, it is possible to see how a politician’s mind can be drawn to the idea of using the power social media might have. All these some-odd billion people (of which mot all may be American) online following and friending each other, might help to create a more personal, solid base of supporters for their cause. Politicians would be able to see comments of average American citizens. After joining, politicians would be able to post about current issues and things of that nature to determine how the public might respond to certain ideas. The easiest way to see some of the supporter’s feedback would be to simply look in the comment section, or the amount of retweets or likes or favorites a post might get. From a political standpoint, this would be revolutionizing. Now politicians are able to react to how the public feels about a decision faster and especially before they do something that might lose them some supporters. Immediately after they post, people will begin to like, share, and comment on their opinions. In this way a politician can test an idea on the public before following through with it. This way, the politician will know whether or not to continue with that idea. In addition to the effect politicians could have, they are also increasingly enabled to target younger people, more specifically age groups between 18 & 25 to come out and vote. In 2009, around 25.9 million active users on Facebook were ages 18 to 25, which was more than any other age group (Smith). By joining social media sites, politicians would be able to encourage younger people to vote. When looking to elections to see a fluctuation in the amount of younger voters, in the year 2000 it is noticed that there were 8,635 voters in that age group. By 2004 that number jumped to 11,639 and by 2008 12,501 voters were between the ages of 18 and 24 (Kirby and Kawashima-Ginsberg). This might suggest the correlation between the increase in people using social media and an increase in the number of
3 young voters. The numbers were a low in the year 2000, but in 2004, the amount of young voters had over a 34% increase. Turning to a more recent perspective, Obama has been using Twitter in attempt to get people active in their government, which most likely geared to younger people as well. For his campaign, Obama created an automated system on Twitter that sent messages from Twitter to a person’s Republican representative. One of these messages was “Will you stand with @BarackObama and vote to pass the American Jobs Act? #passthebill” (Shear). In the article “Obama Takes Jobs Fight to Twitter”, one might conclude that social media is having a major effect on politics. Politicians are both being attacked, and trying to gain support through social media, with now have direct access to their supporters. For Obama, this tactic is quite efficient, “Obama Becomes Third Human, First Politician To Reach 10 Million Followers.” (Bennett). Obama, the first standing president in the social media era, has been beginning to use social media more and more, increasing his followers as he goes. Now, everything he posts can be seen by 10 million people or more, greatly upping his ability to connect with the public. Coming into the 2012 election, Obama had a foothold already in the social media, perhaps already recognizing it’s potential. His campaign staff quickly took grasp of the situation and continued to post and tweet trying to encourage people to vote for Obama. The staff would quote him in tweets saying things like “If you’re willing to stand with me, and vote for me, & organize with me, we will finish what we started.” (Obama). During the campaign, specifically June 4-17 2012, Romney fell far behind in his social media usage compared to Obama. This may have attributed to his loss at least in part because of his failure to be effective in his use of social media. Been. Statistically, Obama posted 24 times on Facebook and Romney posted 34 times. On Twitter, Obama tweeted 404 times and Romney only 16 times.
4 Obama posted 21 videos on YouTube and Romney only uploaded a video 10 times. On website blogs, Obama posted 106 times and Romney only 55. Already one can see a dramatic difference in amounts of social media usage between the two. However, no matter what, Obama always came out on top for feedback in the public. He received 1,124,175 likes on his Facebook posts whereas Romney only received 633,597. On Twitter, Obama had 150,106 retweets and Romney only had 8,601. Even on YouTube Obama still beat Romney in the amount of comments, views, and likes, he acquired 839,933 and Romney only having 399,225 (Pew Research Center's Journalism Project Staff). Viewing these statistics, it’s no doubt to see how much greater of a foothold Obama had in social media than Romney. This only helps to show just how big of a part social media is beginning to play in people’s everyday lives. Social media is beginning to have a major impact on politicians and their ways of campaigning for elections. With Facebook and Twitter, along with other social media sites, politicians try to gear their ads to the user. If someone was to follow Obama on Twitter, they might begin to see advertisements for an upcoming debate or speech. Not only what politicians are saying on social media sites is beginning to have impact, but also what the user follows or likes and searches also take part. An even more advanced system is being used today while still holding to the same concept. This system, known as microtargeting, allows a company or person to see when a user hovers over their link with their mouse. The user doesn’t even have to click it for the company to be notified. This invention is more recent and seems to be the way technology is advancing in an advertising sense. With this technology, a politician would be able to see who has been interested in what he or she has been doing while in office and possibly, as stated earlier, advertise an upcoming debate or speech the politician might have. This is just another way for politicians to try and gain supporters for themselves and possibly help them win a campaign in the future.
5 An additional observation that must be made when analyzing the increase in the amount of young voters during the Obama campaign is that Obama was the first black president to run for office. As the first black to run for office, Obama tried to appeal to other African-Americans to gain their vote. He almost sympathized with them stating, “I don’t think there’s a better time than African-American history month to consider the tremendous progress we’ve made through the sacrifices of so many, or a better time to recommit to the challenges we face right now,” (Obama). Many presidents use the words “us” and “we” in their speeches in attempts to convey a feeling of togetherness, that the American people are not alone and that the government is a part of the people as well. Obama does this in his YouTube video, however, the “we” which he said, was not generalized to all American citizens. It was used particularly to connect with AfricanAmerican citizens. This instigated a major backlash on YouTube. Many comments on the video ranged anywhere from “This is the most racist President since Woodrow Wilson! The most divisive, polarizing President America has ever seen” (Dunagan), to “The man knows how to unite people.”(Mockalensky). Controversy might very well be a cause for why Obama had a much higher feedback rate than Romney. This being said, Mockalensky might also have a decent point. Obama used his race to unite himself with other African-Americans and by broadcasting over social media his words became viral throughout the world of social media. His attempts to have black supporters come out and vote resulted in an overall 4.9% increase of AfricanAmerican voters from 2004 to 2008 (Taylor). Yes, Obama was effective in getting AfricanAmericans to come out and vote, but they would not have a large enough impact to greatly affect the numbers in the polls of younger voters whom came out to vote when the use of social media was increasing. Also, one thing to keep in mind is that this 4.9% increase was for AfricanAmericans of all age groups, meaning that the amount of black voters between the ages of 18 and
6 25 will be even less than if all age groups were observed. The effect of Obama’s ethnicity didn’t have as large an impact as one might assume. In this way, the affect of social media is still a plausible reason for this dramatic rise in voters ages 18 to 25. By promoting his ethnicity and attempting to relate with African-American voters through the use of social media, Obama produced a lot of controversy. This also might have aided his grasp on social media because people would talk about him, not just over social media, but in person as well. As his name got spread around, even if in a bad way, it still is publicity. Some of those people who hear of something bad Obama did, might still go and research him online. They might very well find that they support what he is doing overall, as well as, what they had heard about him was just a moment of weakness and misjudgment. From the year 2000 to present day, social media has been constantly evolving. Its impacts have had a dramatic affect on everyday lives and also on politicians in government. Once social media began, there was an instant rise in public ability to get involved with their government, as well as vice versa. The relations between the public and government, started to become increasingly intimate. One false move, posting or tweeting something morally wrong or against what the politician had said he believed in, could destroy his entire reputation. It could have the power to turn all of his or her supporters against them. In the recent past however, it has been used mainly for good, Obama trying to get people to support the American Jobs Act is just one way it has proven helpful. Social media also helped to increase the amount of young people to actively participate in their government by voting and supporting bills, either via the web or going out and voting. As people progress towards the future, social media is starting to have a larger and larger impact on society as a whole, but specifically in politics. Its impact may only be a portion of
7 what it will be in the upcoming future. Technology has been quickly evolving throughout the past and is still advancing to this day. Social media will advance alongside it, becoming evermore powerful as it continues on its path. Its ability to unite and connect people across the world must not be taken for granted. These abilities are becoming very powerful and if a hacker were to infiltrate a politician’s profile, who knows the damage that could be accomplished. What if Hitler and his people had access to social media? As we continue into the future, this is still a pressing matter, who might become the next Hitler? And this time, it would be different. If a Hitler were to exist, he will have access to social media and its ability to unite people and affect their beliefs. Social media’s influence on society may be a beneficial one, but necessary precautions must be taken in order to achieve its benefits. If these precautions are ignored, social media could have devastating effects. As mentioned before, a hacker could penetrate the system, posting or tweeting as the president, but lashing out against a foreign diplomat. What happens then? A president can’t simply apologize to the press and the foreign diplomat, it will still continue as a controversy and conspiracy. As of current day, social media has so far proven to aid politicians to gain support for themselves and for passing bills. As technology evolves so does social media, and its power must never be taken for granted.