It’s fair to say that the 2008 Presidential Election is unlike any other in the way they’re using technology. To gain support, both Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain have used the Internet, including social networks such as YouTube.com, Facebook.com, MySpace.com and Twitter.com.
Benefits of Social Networking:
- Interactive, real-time polls: MySpace and the Commision of Presidential Debates have teamed up to create MyDebates, an interactive site where users can actively engage in the political process. The first debate is tonight — Friday, Sept. 26th, and MyDebates will provide live video and short poll questions that users can respond to during the debate. Also, questions can be submitted online and may be selected for the second presidential debate held on Oct. 7 and hosted by NBC’s Tom Brokaw.
- Personalize messages: Candidates have been sending out personalized messages through Twitter and Facebook, as well as emailing and texting. These interactive messages are used to make the public feel closer to the candidate and be aware of his progress in the election; they also fulfill our society’s need to have news available immediately.
- Online Discussions: The Facebook boom within the last few years has acted as a popular forum for political discussions in the 2008 election. The pages of Barack Obama, who has 1,893,782 supporters, and John McCain with 536,466 supporters, both provide videos and photos, wall posts, discussion groups, and several links to other sites that allow the public to voice opinions and share information other users might enjoy.
- Entertaining videos: YouTube has also been especially popular in this election. The content of videos ranges from the obvious candidate commercials to music videos, interviews on The David Letterman Show and impersonations of the candidates. What these sometimes-funny, sometimes-sappy, sometimes-light-hearted, sometimes-ill-hearted videos all have in common, though, is the ability to attract and engage viewers in political activism. The Barack Obama music video, “Yes We Can”, has 9,827,006 views, 64,600 text comments and 29 video responses. It’s great that a site like YouTube, where viewers watch videos primarily to amuse themselves, is also being used for the greater good of engaging the public in this election.
Drawbacks of Social Networking
- Decrease in voters: There’s a fear that because social networks may indicate a particular candidate has won the election before November 4th, many voters will not vote because they assume their candidate has already won. In reality, social networks are popular for a large portion of voters, but not for all. Good thing many online forums are constantly reminding people to vote.
- Backfiring: Facebook, MySpace and YouTube all provide ways to gain support during the election, but these political discussion spaces can also backfire on candidates. U.S. National Democratic Party Leader Jack Layton learned this the hard way when he was bombarded with Canadians’ complaints on his page regarding a statement he made about Canada’s Green Party Leader Elizabeth May’s participation in the televised leadership debates. As a result, Layton took back what he said about May.