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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… Read more


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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The Rise of Social Networks Might be Making People More Private

// Posted by on 04/13/2014 (8:31 PM)

We all know that in recent years the use of social media has exploded into a worldwide phenomenon. Seemingly everyone uses all of these various networks and apps to connect with other people. So much of our private lives… Read more


We all know that in recent years the use of social media has exploded into a worldwide phenomenon. Seemingly everyone uses all of these various networks and apps to connect with other people. So much of our private lives have become public, and often is viewable to people we don’t even know that well. We can see thousands of personal photos of each other, our customized pages show all of our “likes” and interests, and we can even connect over a map that shows us the exact locations of our “friends” at any given time. Therefore, it would appear that privacy is dead.

Our generation is said to value personal privacy less than any group of people before us. In a Wired  article called “Why Privacy is Actually Thriving Online” Nathan Jurgenson talks about the explosion of personal information online and how our use of social media has changed our outlook on what is private and what is not. He suggests that kids of our generation post now with the intention of revealing something about themselves, but also with the intention of concealing things to leave a certain sense of mystery in our posts. Jurgenson also claims that Facebook has recognized a strange pattern among some teens:

“In a behavior called whitewalling, users post to Facebook—sometimes in great detail — but then quickly delete everything, creating a blank timeline. That’s a new form of privacy for the social media age: a mass release of information that eventually disappears.” (Jurgenson, 2014)

I agree that young people today are becoming increasingly wary of who might see what they release through social media, but I think that those who are majorly concerned with their privacy tend to hold back on their posts rather than, as the author suggests, adjust them to be more cryptic or delete them shortly after posting. Our generation is simultaneously public and private, but ultimately the influx of social media outlets throughout the past decade might have turned millions of us away from sharing. Furthermore, I think the pressure to participate in social media has even caused some people to be more public than they feel comfortable being in actuality- or for some people it’s the opposite.

I’m curious to see what happens in the future with social media. New networks could take off unexpectedly like they have in the past, or people could abandon this culture of publicity and sharing altogether. Sometimes I think that the moments I don’t document are more precious, and that participating in the excessive use of technology/social media is distracting me from the present. If you don’t document something you’ll never totally be able to relive it- but that’s kind of the point. ”It’s gotten to the point where choosing not to photograph something conveys respect for a moment, imbues it with significance. Pretty soon we might realize that one of the Internet’s favorite slogans can now be reversed: No pics or it didn’t happen,” says Jergenson.

Rushkoff’s book Present Shock talks all about how consumed we are with technology and these networks. His opinion on our generation is clear: we are in a state of shock and we better do something before it’s too late. The Wired article, on the other hand, suggests that our generation is indeed stepping back from certain social media outlets and technologies. A second Wired article by Mat Honan is mostly about messaging networks, but touches on Facebook and other social networks and their privacy flaws in the eyes of users. Honan says that Facebook has developed a “self-admitted” problem with young people: they are leaving.

“The generation that has grown up with social media is also wary of its permanence—that picture you post today may come back to haunt you when you’re ready to find a job. Even the site’s central design, a timeline that literally begins with your birth, emphasizes the notion that Facebook is forever.”

I think this idea is central to the argument that our generation might flee from social media. Its permanence has made millions of us resistant to it or less active on it. When posting on Facebook in particular, it is inconvenient to adjust your audience, and you might question who will see your post, how they might receive it, and if they will think it’s directed at them (which it may not be). Honon suggests that in the past few years, messaging networks have taken priority or proved more useful for some people than social media outlets have. This is because they are less public, more intimate, and can be used more easily on a tablet or smartphone.

Do you think the efforts of social media companies will backfire, causing members of our generation to become more private- maybe even abandoning the networks altogether? Or will we just be slightly more selective about what we post? Will messaging networks take over, and how do you think that might impact our use of technology?



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