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For this week’s reading I am looking at a piece from 2011 by Ian Reilly called “’Amusing Ourselves to Death?’ Social Media, Political Satire, and the 2011 Election”. Reilly discusses both social media and political satire as relevant to the 2011 Canadian presidential election; however I will be focusing on the social media aspect this week and following up with a separate post on political satire as there is much to say about each.

The Canadian federal election is significantly different from the American presidential election in that they have a multi-party system of five main distinct parties while the American system is comprised almost entirely of two. That said, I thought this article was interesting and relevant to our current political race because we are seeing many of the same trends and concerns emerging from the rising relevance of social media and “fake news genre”.

According to Digital Trends, the social media revolution started in 2002 with Friendster and has evolved from there with LinkedIn and Myspace in 2003, Facebook in 2004 open to a limited audience, Facebook in 2006 open to the general public, and Google+ in 2011. The 2011 Canadian federal election is unique in that it has been hailed as “Canada’s first social media election”.

Much like America, the Canadian 18-24 year-old demographic has had a historically low voter turnout. The advent of the “Vote Mob”, however, emerged during the 2011 campaign cycle and was perpetuated via social media as a means to encourage young voters to go against their generational stereotype and get active in the political forum.

According the Reilly, the emergence of Vote Mobs did two things: (1) [it] signaled that the younger demographic could rise to the occasion to express its willingness to participate in the electoral process; and (2) [it] leveraged the power of social media to make possible both virtual and real-time collaboration, providing a template for groups to adopt and adapt in future endeavors.

All across “Web 2.0 platforms” such as Youtube, blogs, mobile phone applications, and social networking sites, the Vote Mob campaign was being diffused by users. One Seattle journalist actually wrote an article titled “Canada’s Message to Obama: Try ‘Vote Mobs’” in April 2011 but we’ve yet to see anything like that in this 2012 election cycle.

The concern that social media campaigns do not translate into real-life results is a constant question raised by those interested in shape of the political arena. In the case of the Canadian 2011 election and Vote Mobs, this concern proved to be well founded.

From 37.4 percent in 2008 to 38.8 percent in 2011, the Canadian youth voter turnout saw only a slight rise, despite their social media campaigning and vast Vote Mobs.

Richard Matthews, a writer for the Sierra Club Activist Network, wrote, “More than 70,000 youth had pledged to vote as part of the “I Will Vote” campaign, but efforts to boost the youth vote with social media and vote mobs were insufficient to prevent a Conservative majority. The outcome of the 2011 election indicates that while Canadian youth like online campaigns, they are not interested in doing much to manage climate change, even an action as simple as voting. “

This seems to be the great perceived shortcoming of social media: an inability to inspire offline action. There is a plethora of counter-examples from the Arab Spring to the Occupy Movement, but this excerpt from the 2011 Canadian election helps capture a recent failure of social media to bring about inspired change and one has to wonder why some social media movements catch hold and translate into real-life results while others remain curtailed in the online realm.

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