The 2012 presidential campaign affords firsthand experience with the development of social media as a source of political information and a means of political engagement.
Since January, the number of Americans using social media sites including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube as a source of political news has doubled, according to research conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.
As for political engagement, the first presidential debate was the most tweeted about event in the history of U.S. politics, with over 10 million tweets sent over the course of the debate.
Citizens have engaged with social media in various ways. A survey titled “Social Media and Political Engagement” conducted by the Pew Internet and American Life project found that, “In all, 60% of all American adults use either a social networking site (like Facebook, LinkedIn, or Google+) or use Twitter.”
These Americans have utilized social media to post their own thoughts or comments as well as repost content related to political and social issues and to encourage other people to take action on political or social issues.
Social media in this election has also allowed for the citizens to interact with the presidential debates and other political events as they unfold. This has led to statements from the candidates “going viral” on social media platforms such as Twitter, YouTube and Facebook. The political meme has also been part of this trend.
An example is the almost immediate creation of a Tumblr blog of memes mocking Governor Mitt Romney’s word choice in the second presidential debate when he referred to having “binders full of women” to consider for hiring.
This aspect of social media as a means of political engagement has been called into question, as it does not allow time or space for developed and articulated views.
Overall, the majority of social media attention in the 2012 election has focused on President Barack Obama and Democrats.
At their respective conventions, “Obama was the focus of more than twice as many assertions during the week of the Democratic convention than Romney was during the Republican convention (4.92 million assertions versus 1.98 million),” according to another study by Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. “That pattern, more attention to Obama, has held throughout the general election period and all of 2012, even during the period of the GOP primaries.”
Obama’s campaign also puts out four times more content on internet platforms than Romney’s campaign.
Despite the rise of social media usage in the 2012 election, the American people still turn to television as the most useful source for political news and, when online, they visit websites of traditional news organizations for information more frequently than social media sites, according to research from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.
Photo Courtesy: Steve Garfield
Printed in the November 2, 2012, issue of The Wheaton Record. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.