The Politics of Social Media

// Posted by on 04/21/2014 (6:27 PM)

My project focuses on how social media has affected the ways we think about and engage with politics in the United States of America.  Essentially up until the most recent presidential election, the majority of political material was conveyed to the general public through news and print media sources (both online and directly).  However, as we become increasingly entrenched in the digital age, the best practices for campaigning have shifted to accommodate a greater concentration on social media advertisement.  In my initial research, I found that 76% of the sitting members of congress have some sort of social media account that they use to relay information to voters.  In many ways, this can be considered a positive development because it allows both current politicians and prospective politicians to deliver a message directly to the voting population, as opposed to relying on the media to properly portray their political stances.  But nonetheless, there is evidence that the integration of social media has done much more than simply expose the general public to a new source for political news.  By increasing the emphasis placed on social media campaigning, the criteria for a successful campaign and the ways in which political standpoints are communicated to a voter base have also been altered.  For example, a recent study released in the journal Social Abstracts states, “Social media like Facebook and Twitter place the focus on the individual politician rather than the political party, thereby expanding the political arena for increased personalized campaigning” (Enli and Skogerbo Social Abstracts, 1).  This is mainly due to the fact that individuals have different expectations regarding the type of information they will pay attention to on their social media pages.  Generally, social media posts are intended to be immediately enticing, and if a given post does not meet this criterion, then it is often quickly passed over without being absorbed by the users.  Thus, in order to be effective politicians must not be long winded and dry.  Rather, they are expected to post material that will instantly grab the attention of the social media user, which in many cases pertains closer to their personal lives than their actual legislative goals.  As a result, best practices for a successful campaign aimed at the average voter has drifted away from the nuts and bolts of a political standpoint and shifted towards the characteristics of the individual politician.

My investigation has shown that this shift is especially critical when campaigning to younger individuals.  PR week stated in regards to the most recent presidential election that “Republicans, with 31%, are also more likely to get their election news on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter than Democrats, 19%, and independents with 25%.”  This information shows that every political group in the United States has a key demographic that relies heavily on social media sites to receive election news.  As a result, posting material that will stand out to these individuals amongst the thousands of other tweets and posts each day is critical in attaining their votes.  And this change in direction also extends to news journalism companies which are also trying to adjust to the needs of this growing social media population.  Especially given the increasing drop in the actual purchase of newspapers and magazines, media outlets are beginning to rely heavily on social media posts to draw a customer base.  They engage in this practice of developing catchy posts that will grab social media users’ attention because otherwise they continue to scroll through a seemingly endless newsfeed without choosing to click on the displayed news link.  However, I interrogate whether this is a beneficial practice, in regards to both politicians and news sources.  It seems that it may be detrimental to our understanding of politics to diminish our political investigation to 160 characters of a catchy Facebook posts.  In many ways, it seems that our political decision making could be better facilitated through sources that fully explicate a candidate’s political plan, as opposed to focusing on details of a politician’s personal life or enticing political anecdotes through social media services.  Thus, in my project I am pinpointing the exact changes that this growing concentration on social media has brought to American politics, while critically analyzing these changes and determining how exactly we should choose to engage with social media when attempting to be well informed voters.

My research problem is primarily in regards to determining how we should view the effects of social media on our political culture.  Initial questions I’ve had in regards to this process starts with wondering how influential social media really is on our understanding of American politics.  The changes that social media have brought to politics are clearly documented, but I still wonder to what degree this shift is actually influencing our political decision making.  Furthermore, I wonder how much more likely Millennials are to use social media as their primary source for political news in comparison to older adults (roughly ages 35-50).  I believe that these social media services can be a valuable supplement to our political understanding, but perhaps the real danger is allowing these services to be one’s primary source for political news.  And finally, I have consistently found myself questioning how whether social media is chiefly responsible for this fascination with the individual politician.  Although some of my sources have argued that is the case, it seems that Americans have concentrated on the individual politician long before the rise of social media (such as one of my sources discussing Bill Clinton’s 1996 presidential campaign).  As far as road blocks to answering these questions go, it seems that I have struggled to provide solid statistics regarding the effects of social media on political culture.  I need to find polling more specific to a certain presidential election in order to strengthen my final claim.  Also, I have struggled with acquiring tweets from differing news sources to compare head-to-head in order to display how catchy titles developed by news outlets can be misleading.  This is mainly because these news sources all tweet and post so frequently that I have run into a bit of information overload and found it difficult to pinpoint particular stories.  However, these twitter and Facebook accounts still provide extremely beneficial supporting media, and now it is more so a matter of narrowing this media down to a couple particular stories.  It has also been useful to look at politicians social media accounts for additional supporting media.  For example, Joe Biden has just recently opened an Instagram account and Barack Obama posted a selfie with the Vice-President to his personal Instagram account in order to help Joe generate followers.  These social media sources, in addition with television news reports on the growing phenomenon should provide ample evidence to support my claim.

What would be most beneficial to receive from my classmates is the following:

  • Please answer the following poll questions:

Question 1: Is social media your primary source for acquiring political news?  If not, please state what you would list as your primary source.

Question 2: Do you believe that social media can adequately serve as a sole source for political news?

Question 3: Do you believe that social media can serve as a valued supplement for political news?

Question 4: When selecting a political candidate to vote for, are you interested in knowing the personal life of the candidate (i.e. their past, family, interests, hobbies)?

Question 5: Specifically in regards to social media, do you think you’d be more prone to pay attention to a post that addressed a politician’s personal life as opposed to their political standpoints?  Be honest, and elaborate if possible.

Question 6: When reading political news reports on social media sites, do you generally click on the link to the full story, or just read the headline displayed in the post?  Possible answers: a. Always b. Frequently c. Rarely d. Never

Question 7: Do you follow any political news outlets or politicians on any of your social media accounts?  If so, please list which ones.

Open ended question: If you voted in the most recent presidential election, what is it that led you to go to the polls?  Any feedback you can provide would be greatly beneficial.

  • Barack Obama recently went on “Between Two Ferns” with Zach Galifianakis in order to prompt more younger individuals to sign up for ObamaCare.  His efforts were actually pretty successful, but this approach to political progress was somewhat unorthodox.  The success of this appearance was largely correlated with the idea of “going viral,” meaning Barack Obama’s interview spread rapidly over the web and through social media sites.  Do you agree with using this sort of political tactic?  Also, what do you think it says about our culture today that it takes “going viral” to generate a spike in younger individuals participation in a political initiative.
  • The Barack Obama administration has been accused of being very closed off in regards to White House photography.  This angers various news sources because they only have the opportunity to use photographs provided by White House officials.  In many circumstances, these images provided by White House officials are taken very strategically to convey a certain line of thinking regarding the President.  Especially in the age of social media, how do you feel about the White House using such a closed off approach to presidential photography?
  • Can you think of any stories you saw on social media sites that we portrayed differently in the specific post than they were in the full story?  Any stories of this type you can lead me to would be great.
  • Can you think of any stories that were portrayed very in different lights by two different media sources?  I’m struggling somewhat with pinpointing specific examples, so once again, any stories that come to mind would be greatly appreciated.
  • And finally, how do you feel about social media’s relation to politics?  I know this question is extremely open ended, but I’d love to just get some ideas about how other Millenials view social media’s growing role in political campaigning.

Moving forward in this project, I really just need to turn my focus to more specific examples of social media and its effects.  I feel like I have done a pretty good job outlining the theoretical/big picture issues of my subject, but now I need to start analyzing specific pieces of social media.  Furthermore, I really think that I need to get some statistics to post to my blog page.  Hopefully classmates responding to the poll I posted will make that possible.  Once I select a few specific instances of social media to focus on that relate to my more general evidence, then I believe my project will come together nicely and paint a solid picture of social media’s role in our political culture.  I still have yet to answer how exactly Millenials feel about social media becoming a crucial campaign tool.  Furthermore, I still have yet to pinpoint the likelihood of individuals using social media as their sole source for political news.  In many ways, this project has morphed from simply observing social media in the political realm to critically analyzing their influence on our overall political culture.  Instead of just identifying these changes, I have begun to interrogate the effects social media has had on political campaigning and news consumption. Due to these advancements in my project aims, I believe that I will be able to develop a definitive standpoint on how exactly I believe social media should be utilized as a political tool by the close of my study.  Please refer to my blog to take a look at what I have been working on so far.  Any feedback is greatly appreciated.

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Rachel said...

Question 1: Not really. I follow social media, but I also get a lot of my political news from traditional media, word of mouth, The Daily Show, etc.

Question 2: I think it depends. Despite McLuhan’s claim that the media is the message, I don’t think that really holds true. I think social media can be a great source for quick updates and/or political debate, but I also think it’s a mistake to assume it can serve as a substitute for doing your own research into issues and candidates and ideologies.

Question 3: Absolutely.

Question 4: I think it’s entertaining to know those things, but unless a specific aspect of their personal life is likely to have a significant impact on their ability to effectively hold office, I don’t particularly care. I want to know you’re good for the job and what your stance on issues is, not whether I’d like to have a beer with you.

Question 5: Not at all. Of course I’m entertained knowing about a politician’s personal life, but in terms of what makes them a good politician or someone I’m likely to vote for, what matters is what they think about the issues, not what’s going on in their personal life.

Question 6: b [I only read further if I'm interested]

Question 7: Huffington Post, Buzzfeed politics, the president, the Daily Show, the Colbert Report, my home Congressional representative, Politico, Richmond Times-Dispatch, NyTimes, Washington Post, the UN, and more…

Open ended question: Well, “to the polls” isn’t entirely true. I voted via absentee ballot, because I was abroad. Honestly, I vote because I feel like it’s a patriotic duty (and also that it’s a little hypocritical to complain about the country if you forfeited your primary opportunity to have a say it the direction it goes).

// 04/21/2014 at 8:18 pm

Emily said...

1) For the most part yes. However, when I’m at home I normally sit down with my parents while they watch it on TV.
2) It depends on the site you are using. People are more likely to express their opinions through social media so it may be a little biased. But I think it gets the job done in terms of spreading accurate information.
3) I can’t imagine a world without the news. I don’t think social media would suffice.
4) Yes, I like to learn about their personal life in all of the dimensions you mentioned.
5) I think I would be more inclined to read a post about their personal life. I don’t follow along much with current political news so I probably wouldn’t understand the post….
6) I normally click on the post but most likely will skim the article.
7) I did follow both barrack and michelle obama on twitter at one point but I don’t use twitter anymore.
8) I did not vote in the most recent election because I was studying abroad in Europe.

// 04/21/2014 at 9:47 pm

Emily said...

Obama questions:
1) While I may not agree with the fact that our generation only pays attention to the important things in the world through social media, at least it grabs our attention. So I guess in a way I do agree with the political tactic and think it is a good way to reach out and get your point across to those who tend not to listen.
2) They definitely need to open up and get used to it. The norm of our culture now is to capture every moment through photos. Another issue I have with that is that I (along with most people I think) tend to like candid photos more than staged ones, and if we are only seeing professional photos released by the white house, we feel we aren’t seeing the real him.
3) I can’t really think of many specific stories and I don’t know if this helps but Watergate was really controversial and had a bunch of different stories/fact/views running about it.
4) I think that social media is going to be the future of politics. Why travel around the country to get votes when you can

// 04/21/2014 at 9:56 pm

Molly said...

1)No I don’t use social media for acquiring political news. I usually reference the internet (in the rare even that I look) but turn to ny times or another more credible site for that information.

2)No, I don’t believe social media can serve as a sole provider of political news. Maybe because I only really use instagram and facebook I wouldn’t really be able to get much information from these sites, as they are more photo based, not live streaming information that you could maybe get from twitter and sites like that

3)No. not at this point.. similar to what I said above, I only use a few social media platforms and I don’t think they would provide sufficient information and never will based on the nature of their design.

4) Yes! I am interested in knowing their personal lives. Partially because I think its interesting, but I think peoples background have some impact on their political beliefs and attitudes. I also personally think that I want to feel like I “know” my elected official on a deeper level then just a political base. I think its important to feel like I can relate or be understood by who is representing me.

5) Honestly, because I am a very politically opinionated person, I think I probably would be more interested in their person lives. I think policy is important but im naturally more drawn to articles and information that would probably be considered more personal.

6) Somewhere between B or C. if it strikes me as interesting then I click it but not all the time.


8) Since we were abroad during the most recent elections, my parents kept pressuring me to fill out an absentee ballot, but I never ended up doing it.

9) I think that politicians just like the majority of companies etc. Will continue to turn to the Internet to get in touch with the younger generations. I think that they want to get more in touch with the youth and they know we are living in a digital culture in which we are very intune with the Internet. I am not surprised that Obama turned to the Internet to engage the younger population. I think its probably a smart move on his end, and I think we will continue to see more of this in the future.

10) Although I don’t know much about the reasoning behind this selective photographs, im sure there are more reasons then solely to portray a certain image of the president. I also assume this rule has been in place for quite some time and do not feel too strongly about it.

11) I don’t know a specific event off the top of my head but I do know that Fox News channel has been accused multiple times on different occasions for being conservative. They are sometimes accused of for being very politically Republican in their reporting and some claim this takes away from journalism by framing their reports through a right wing conservative way.

12) I think that we are going to see politics move more and more into social media outlets as a means to get our attention and engage us in a way in which we are familiar with. Also, they know that our generation is extremely tech savvy and plugged in, and I think they will play off this in order to gain support and or attention in the future.

// 04/21/2014 at 10:15 pm

Cora said...

Question 1: This is a no for me. I usually get my info from family & peers, local television, or the newspaper.

Question 2: I think people have the tendency to be a bit biased and sometimes irrational when expressing themselves through social media, but I do think it has the potential to spread interesting and relevant information.

Question 3: Definitely

Question 4: To a certain extent…I would like to know about their general background and things they have dedicated their time to throughout their life. As far as political gossip and scandal…it is not of particular interest to me.

Question 5: I think if you are running for political office, it is crucial that you maintain a level of professionalism. Personal issues are not meant to be shared with the public. While at times slight openness from a candidate might be nice, I would be more concerned with their position on issues relating to the position they are running for.

Question 6: Rarely.

Question 7: I do not.

Open ended question: Well, I had just recently turned 18 and felt educated enough to vote.

-I think that this situation perfectly illustrates how truly digitalized our world has become. I do not think it is unorthodox, I think it is pretty intelligent. I like that he is willing to put himself out there in an effort to promote something that he cares about.

// 04/22/2014 at 1:53 am

Alexandra said...

I love the focus of your project. I think this is something that was really missed in our class discussion. As a political science major and someone who has worked on political campaigns I recognize the importance of social media in campaigns these days. This summer I interned for my congressman in his Washington D.C. office and managing his twitter account was one of the responsibilities of a staff member and the interns. I have studied this topic a bit in my Campaigns and Elections course, in which we discussed the real time impact of using social media. There are many arguments in support of the influence but also real life examples of it not being a good predictor of electoral success. For example in the last Republican primary for the Presidential candidate, Ron Paul had far more twitter followers than any other candidate but only won less than 10 percent of the popular vote. I think this is an interesting topic and it heavily tied into the voting habits of young people, considering they are the ones who use social media the most.

1. No, during the elections I use the website RealClearPolitics to get my information. But I do usually read the information on the app I have on my phone.

2. I think that twitter has the potential for getting quick bits of information out, but I think it also has the potential for information skimming.

3. No I don’t think that social media is equivalent to research stories about politics and the actions of our candidates.

4. I think that the personal life of Politicians are far too exposed and usually the stories that come from this over exposure are irrelevant to their ability to lead and represent the country.

5. I try to be political engaged, but stories of politician’s personal lives tend to be over publicized and on the front page of all news outlets. It is hard to ignore stories that are pushed as hard as these are.

6. Frequently

7. I follow my Congressman on facebook as well as Governor Chris Christie. I have worked personally for both of them.

// 04/22/2014 at 12:15 pm

Cassaundra said...

1) Its definitely a source I use, but I wouldn’t say its my main one. I follow the Wall Street Journal and New York Times on Twitter, but I also read the actual Wall Street Journal editions online when I have time, and I get New York Times updates sent to my e-mail. I’ll also watch the news, particularly when I’m at home with my parents.

2) No

3) Yes, definitely

4) Yes. Its not the deciding factor but I think who the candidate is as a person says a lot about his or her values and how those will translate into their policies. However, nothing bothers me more when a candidate goes over the top with promoting his or her family life, etc. to the point where it seems fake.

5) No, especially not if it is something like “President Obama and family go on a vacation to Hawaii.” I’m more inclined to read posts about debates, speeches, current events, etc. because I like to keep up with significant things that are going on.

6) I read the headline and judge if I want to read more, in which case I’ll click the link. Sometimes I’ll click the link and just skim the beginning, sometimes I’ll click and read the whole article, and sometimes I won’t click at all.

7) I only follow the Wall Street Journal, some of their reporters, and the New York Times.

8) I was studying abroad in Australia for the most recent presidential election and voted via absentee ballot. I was driven to vote because I think everyone should take charge and exercise their right- to me, you have no right to complain if you didn’t make the effort to vote. I also kept up with the campaigns a lot more knowing I was going to be voting.

// 04/23/2014 at 11:52 am

Eliza said...

Question 1: Yes. My CNN app keeps me up to date.

Question 2: Yes. I think in the world we live in today social media is becoming a major source of news.

Question 3: Yes.

Question 4: Yes I am interested in a little of their personal life to understand what type of person they are.

Question 5: Yes, because everyone loves gossip, especially when regarding celebrities. Even the news on the television, anchors pay more attention to news about scandals then they do about politician’s political standpoints. Those are not exciting and don’t get people riled up.

Question 6: Rarely

Question 7: No

// 04/26/2014 at 12:04 pm

Claire said...

1. No, CNBC is my primary source
2. I think that social media is biased from the source and most sites are trying to promote their own self interest
3. No
4. I don’t think any of that is relevant. I would like to hear more about their experience and stance on political issues.
5. I honestly don’t care if Obama goes on social media websites, if anything it annoys me and makes the issue look less serious. I also know that there are many people however this does target to and I can see why he does it.
6. C
7. No
8. I did not vote in the last presidential election because I was abroad however I would have voted to Mitt Romney. I am pretty set in my views on politics and nothing in the media will change them for the most part. I take the media in regards to politics and face value and am aware of the general biases when representing information.

// 04/28/2014 at 1:02 pm