New Media/Social Media have had some stunning influences on recent elections all over the world. In Britain’s election this past May, when the long-standing Labor Party was forced to give way to a Conservative/Liberal-Democrat coalition, the Guardian newspaper and blog crowned it “The First Social Media Election.” had a similar outcome of a hung parliament in August after an election rich in SM outreach. Most dramatically (nay, “dangerously”), last year’s disputed Iranian elections were themselves especially driven by social media, but the protests were and continue to be (For an interview with the Iranian-American who returned to her homeland for the elections, click here.). What will SM and the US midterm elections look like?
If the recent past is any indication, social media will tip close elections. The blog “Overdrive Interactive” did aon the special Senatorial election in Massachusetts this past February that demonstrates the success Republican candidate Scott Brown had with social media and how that translated into an electoral win against favored Democratic candidate Maratha Coakley. Brown’s SM ‘score’ (based on followers, fans, and positive comments on respective websites or YouTube postings) was a whopping 601% better than Coakley’s.
The SM presence of Sarah Palin & Glenn Beck is apparently as well known among their (envious?) detractors as among their retweeters and followers and friends. Their influence in the run-up to the elections is huge, of course. But what about the SM specifically? According to the Christian Science Monitor, if either decides to run for office, he/she will be taking a significant paycut, but will have a pre-built funding and outreach base.
But Conservatives/Republicans are not the only ones who have reaped the SM wind. Indeed, England’s and Australia’s prime ministers are two-year late-comers to the title of ‘First Social Media [Your Head of State Here].’ Barack Obama won deflating their SM activities as well – even though the outlets used by the Democratic leadership remain largely the same over the past two years.in 2008. In 2010, though, deflated hopes among his supporters seem to be
Where SM seems to have the greatest impact is in stirring up the latest ‘counter-cultural’ tendencies within the electorate writ-large. Whoever is ‘in’ becomes the target of those who are ‘out,’ and those who are ‘out’ enjoy using SM to skewer those who are ‘in.’ The latest term for this phenomenon is “the attack tweet,” which is becoming a favorite among Tea Party groups. According to another report in the Christian Science Monitor,
Such messages [official candidate or spokesperson tweets] are scrappier and more emotional than the kinds sent out in 2008, says David Gudelunas, associate professor of communication at Fairfield University in Connecticut. Those first tweets two years ago were largely “antiseptic,” he says, dispensing details of campaign appearances and urging followers to vote.
Not anymore. Today they rally the faithful and allow an interactive relationship between followers and candidates, as tweets become retweets and the messages spread virally. In some ways, that is because the political climate is a lot uglier, says political scientist Matthew Hale of Seton Hall University in South Orange, N.J., but it is also a natural evolution in the platform. This feisty stance is typical of the challenger candidate, says Ronn Torossian, CEO of 5W PR, a New York-based public relations firm. These are candidates, many with little to lose, “who can do things that established political figures can’t do and wouldn’t dare do,” he says. Established politicians feel compelled to craft a carefully controlled message, he notes, whereas the outsider can shoot from the hip.
I confess that those “shooting from the hip” make more pleasurable reading along my Twitterstream, but I am not convinced that such a benchmark makes for good political debate before elections or the policies that are formed after them. What we might need is to develop a matrix that measures the quality of messages within the SM of a given candidate/party – no easily quantifiable task. Which leaves us with what is quantifiable: votes. Be sure yours is cast for the message, not the medium.