Social Networking’s Role in the American Political Campaign

When reflecting on the way the media presents the American political campaign the rising role of social networking is clearly a prevalent component. Social networking has created a public sphere in which society easily, willingly and frequently accesses. Using social networking in this manner allows user generated content to be produced and gain support. The nature of the American political campaigns has been altered in response to this new public sphere. They have responded to social media’s rising influence in society, which is evident in the portrayal of the campaigns, from both official and unofficial sources.

The campaign is vital because of voluntary voting laws in America. The 2008 campaign saw a combined cost of over $5.3 billion (US), but less than 57% of American’s voted. The media’s role is to inspire the public to exercise their right vote is as much as it is to win the public’s vote. Essentially the role of media coverage is crucial to the American political campaign, however, the nature of the media is changing. Broadcasts, rallies and speeches were utilised years ago, but the rapid increase of modern technologies left facets to be exploited, especially social networking sites, which are now finding prevalence in the candidates’ campaigns. Citizen journalism is difficult to control, so official sources are joining the widely accessed mediums. Because we can now challenge ideologies, prove presidents wrong and know when promises are reneged we see a power shift in campaigns. As politicians attempt to control the informed public mediums and tactics began to change, epitomised by Obama’s running for re-election announcement. While traditionally made from the white house Obama’s 2012 campaign was launched via twitter and the URL http://ofa.bo/bWjHd7.

Obama’s 2008 success did not just come from the success of his campaign but the successful advertising and involvement, by readily accessing voters and supporters though social networking sites. “The Facebook Election” was compared to Kennedy’s utilisation of television as a means to gain constituents. “Were it not for the Internet, Barack Obama would not have been the nominee,” said Huffington. While Dean’s 2004 campaign used the internet to raise money, Obama’s 2008 campaign successfully used media for advertising, support, to defend himself, and to quickly and easily communicate with voters. The Facebook election was revolutionary in its use of social networking to report and partake in the election campaign using phone messaging, online advertising, and YouTube videos. His online media presence and “powerful techno-demographic appeal” (US NEWS) allowed him to connect with younger citizens, who made up a majority of his support. The power with this form of media presentation of the campaign was in the fact that everyone could participate, creating passive-assertive followers.

YouTube provides official and unofficial content on a popular, accessible media platform. Official content online allows reinforcement and acts as free advertising. Obama has 14.5 million hours of official videos and “to buy 14.5 million hours on broadcast TV is $47 million.” (Trippi) YouTube is accessed in audiences’ own time, rather than television ads which are seen to interrupt viewing. This medium, because it is sought out and is shared through social networking channels increases the feeling of involvement. Obama’s “The Road We’ve Travelled,” changes a documentary into assertive participation with links to fundraising, Facebook and Twitter without having to leave the Obama page. Moffatt (Romney campaign) says YouTube has “found a niche in politics” because of its ability to translate a message visually and quickly.

The returned Iraq veteran’s address: “Dear Mr Obama having spent 12 months in Iraq theatre I can promise you it’s not a mistake” which has been viewed more 11 million times and is a perfect example of unofficial content and the ability for public response. Citizen Kate and Obama Girl, though less serious still express public views of the campaign process. YouTube channels, blogs, websites, twitter hashtags and Facebook pages exist dedicated to some aspect of the American political campaign. It is this user generated content that citizens are contributing to the media’s portrayal of the political campaign. There are numerous examples readily and easily consumed by the public. YouTube provides an alternative mode of entry into political campaign and it is this alternative public sphere that draws different audiences, inadvertently adding them to the campaign.

There is an increasing awareness of the role of social networking sites in changing media portrayal of issues. This alternative public sphere comprised of platforms like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter creates a different perspective of reporting the campaign by intertwining official and non-official sources. User generated content and citizen journalism in the campaign, and has allowed a passive-assertive following. Social media’s rising influence in these electoral campaigns is essentially due to the ability to translate a message visually and quickly engage with numerous voters and support.

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