Social media has become a place for political actors and social activists to publicize their opinions, reach the masses, and create a support base (Williams). In the past few elections, political actors have used social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, and YouTube to generate name recognition, target specific audiences (young voters), get campaign donations, and become more relatable (Wynn). Social media has also become a growing place for activist groups to raise awareness of their movement and to create support for their cause. Candidates and activist groups alike use social media to reach out to their followers and display their policies and ideals without the media altering their message.
Many people in today’s society receive political information from social media websites such as Twitter and Facebook. A poll by Pew found that 52% of American’s who use a social networking site do so for political purposes (Hamilton). In recent election campaigns, candidates have taken advantage of social media sites and their ability to have an unmediated form of communication with constituents (Kreiss 1). Social media sites give the candidate the opportunity to connect with voters on a more personal and relatable level. As we discussed earlier in the semester, people are more likely to vote for a candidate if their friends endorse them and post about them than if they just see information created for the campaign (Kreiss 1). Using social media allows candidates to connect with and spread their policies through different social networks.
Not only do candidates and activist groups adapt to social media, some social media websites have catered to them as well. Facebook realized the potential for political candidates to use their site as a campaign tool and created profiles for candidates that included their important political information such as their name, party affiliation, state, and the office for which they were competing. They developed a section of Facebook for these profiles called Election Pulse and listed the profiles by state and congressional district, in order for constituents to easily find their representatives. Facebook gave log-in information to the Democratic and Republican national committees to pass on to the candidates, who could control their profile throughout the remainder of the campaign (Williams).
Social media can help create a collective action for activist groups by increasing the visibility of the group and its goals, making it easier for people to act together publicly, and providing two-way communication (Youmans). It is a way for individuals to self-organize and create a common identity. As one method to create awareness and a collective identity, activist groups, political figures, and public awareness campaigns publish pictures for people to use as their cover photos and profile pictures on Facebook and Twitter. The recent Human Rights Campaign is an example of one of these viral campaigns. Their updated symbol, a red square with two pink lines to represent the mathematical equals sign, replaced millions of Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram profile pictures in just the first few days of the Supreme Court’s deliberations on marriage rights cases (Ortutay). The Coalition to Protect North Carolina Families created a similar viral campaign last spring when they released their “Vote Against Amendment One” social media action center and downloads. As friends share these graphics on their pages, they spread across social networks and spread the group’s messages.
Millions of people use social media as an information source and political candidates, activist groups, and public awareness campaigns benefit from the visibility these websites and social networks provide (Williams). While social media increases the prominence of these individuals and groups, they are also a major method of guiding people to the candidate or group’s website (Wynn). It will be interesting to see how candidates and activist groups will adapt new social media in the future and how it will affect campaigns and elections. Since it is a cheap way to organize and publicize increased numbers of poor activist groups may emerge and two-way communication may increase and spread new ideas across the political spectrum; it will also be interesting to see how these changes affect the democratic process. Will Republicans and Democrats choose different social media methods and sites on which to focus or will they attempt to master multiple? Maybe we’ll find out in 140 characters or less.
Hamilton, Samantha. “Use of Social Media in Presidential Campaigns: Do Social Media Have an Effect on the Political Behavior of Voters Aged 18-24?” Roger Williams University (2011): n. pag. American Political Commons. Web. 26 Mar. 2013. <http://docs.rwu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1003&context=honors_theses>.
Williams, Christine B, and Girish J Gulati. “Social Networks in Political Campaigns: Facebook and the 2006 Midterm Elections.” American Political Science Association (2007): n. pag. Web. 28 Mar. 2013. < Williams, C. B., & Gulati, G. J. (2007). Social Networks in Political Campaigns: Facebook and the 2006 Midterm Elections. American Political Science Association. Retrieved from http://nms.sagepub.com/content/early/2012/09/12/1461444812457332.full>.
Ortutay, Barbara. “A Red Box with Pink Equality Lines in Support of Same-sex Marriage Goes Viral on Social Media.”27 Apr. 2013: n. pag. The Washington Post. Web. 28 Mar. 2013. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/a-red-box-with-pink-equality-lines-in-support-of-same-sex-marriage-goes-viral-on-social-media/2013/03/27/e3c7f812-970f-11e2-a976-7eb906f9ed9b_story.html>.
Wynn, Alister. “Social Media – The Campaigner’s New Best Friend.” Yoke. 31 Aug. 2013. Web. 28 Mar. 2013. <http://thisisyoke.com/successful-social-media-campaigns>.
Kreiss, JOMC 244 lecture
Kreiss, Daniel. Acting in the Public Sphere