Social media and the elections
Posted on Oct 31, 2012 in Opinion
As I watched the final presidential debate, a small box appeared in the lower right corner of the screen saying that over 70,000 debate-related tweets were being posted per minute. However, with 6.5 million tweets over 90 minutes, this debate’s Twitter activity was the by far the lowest of the three according to Yahoo! News. Through a new tool called the Talk Meter, Facebook also measured the buzz generated by a given event on a scale of 1 to 10. The first presidential debate scored an 8.8. Compare that to the approximately 5.4 scored by the Mars Rover landing (AllFacebook, Mashable).
It’s not as if any of us were unaware that our Twitter and Facebook feeds have been blowing up with opinions, memes, and strings of nasty comments. I wish I could have held some of my Facebook friends to their promises of moving halfway across the world if one candidate or another is elected. Not to mention the increasingly common posts complaining about others’ statuses or tweets. These were starting to grind my gears even more than the bad grammar and uninformed babble that so often haunt political posts on social media.
But what effect does this type of political discourse have on the American voter? Without a doubt, it has changed the way we gather information and form opinions. Arianna Huffington of The Huffington Post, used about 50 words to say that she believes debates are better with Twitter, and then instead of writing a column she simply pasted all of her Monday night tweets into the blog and suggested that readers “rewatch” the debate by reading them (Huffington Post).
However, there is no substitute for watching a debate real time, no matter who you follow on Twitter. As such, I think the increased focus on social media may discourage voters’ active engagement in the election process. More importantly, I fear that all the cyber-mudslinging and animosity–not only between parties but also between people within the same party–will wear on voters, eventually causing them not to vote at all. In fact, I’ve noticed some posts to that effect on my own feeds: “If both of these guys are so terrible, I don’t think I’ll even vote.” “I’m so over politics, I don’t even want to vote anymore.”
Although social media isn’t the only culprit, voter disenchantment is a serious problem. For our age group, it’s hard enough to make time and remember to register, and our frequent activity on social media may heighten the likelihood that even those of us who are registered will be “over it” come election day and fail to vote. Even though the registration date has passed, sites like rockthevote.com and youngvoter.org are still great, unbiased resources for informing and exciting registered young people about voting in the presidential election. So, whether you usually express your opinions or complain about those who do, next time you log in, to Twitter or Facebook consider encouraging your peers to visit these sites. Help them use their votes to make a difference.