HENTZEL: Social Media: The new face of change


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Opinion — Online Voting

Caytllin Hentzel

Change. Many fear it. Others hope for it. It happens with every movement of the hands on a clock. We do not acknowledge subtle change, but when it occurs on a drastic level, our adrenaline pumps and our eyes go wide. But embracing it can bring huge rewards.

One word, one man and one vision influenced how presidential campaigns are run today. That man is President Obama, that word is “change” and that vision was realized using the internet.

in the 2008 election, Obama’s campaign was able to use social media and the Internet to go farther than anyone imagined. His team revolutionized campaigning by posting videos, maintaining multiple websites and reaching out to donors. Outreach was done through direct mail and online communication, so it would be quick, convenient, cost-effective and accessible to a wide audience. He captured the youth vote by speaking to young voters on their level.

In 2008, there were approximately 100 million users of Facebook and 3 million users of Twitter. Mobilizing these user bases was crucial to the Obama campaign’s success.  

I was stunned when I read a 2008 MSNBC article that said an estimated 22 to 24 million young people voted in that election — a 2.2 million increase over the youth turnout for the 2004 election, according to the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning & Engagement (CIRCLE). Today, we learn more about what is happening on the political level online and through Facebook (which now connects 600 million people) and Twitter (now carrying the tweets of 200 million individuals).

On May 11, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich announced his presidential candidacy. He made his announcement not on TV, through an interview, or at a public function, but via Twitter. Tim Pawlenty announced the formation of his exploratory committee through a video on Facebook, which only members who “liked” the page could view immediately. If you visit the websites of Herman Cain, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, and President Obama you will find, within seconds, links to popular social media outlets to impel you to stay connected. Their goal is to reach out on our level. They aren’t just trying to sway teenagers; they also want to reach working adults on the cutting edge of technology who now have children. These voters look at voting in a different light, due to their concern for the people they are leaving behind.

Candidates are adapting to change. They know that each computer keystroke represents a shift from the classic television, newspaper and radio efforts to steer the vote. This is a positive shift, whether you are reading this in black-and-white on a computer or on a paper clutched in your hands. The Internet plays a huge role in our lives. Most of the information we read or hear about in the news causes us to flock to our phones, text friends for their opinion and otherwise spread the word. Social media continually evolves; this is just the beginning. But change doesn’t free candidates from the responsibility to appear publicly or answer questions.

By using the Internet, voters can get written, visual and interview evidence to support their decision. By searching “President Obama” on Google, I got over 64 million hits; on YouTube, I got 23,300 video results that included interviews and speeches. That alone is a plethora of information at one’s fingertips. All of it can be used to formulate an opinion about whom to support. Having more information in the hands of voters is vital because so many people in the past were uneducated due to a lack of information. People now will be able to look up voting records and see if their own views align with those of a particular candidate. They can also watch countless interviews and speeches they would never be able to attend personally.

By embracing technologies like these, candidates are taking a step in a positive direction. Such technologies will allow them to reach more people and influence their choice of whom to support in the upcoming 2012 elections.