The Social Media Election: hope or hype?


When President Barack Obama raised roughly half of his nearly $780 million in campaign funds over the internet 4 years ago, the 2008 election was dubbed by some as the “Social Media Election” [1].  However, political consultants, media gurus, and common folk alike are contending that this upcoming election is more deserving of that title.  In 2008, for the first time, we saw the influence of campaigning through Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube and the effectiveness of online donating.  In 2012 we now see how the progress of these mediums has advanced cyber-campaigning even more.

Facebook has naturally continued to grow and now connects over one billion users.  There is no doubt Facebook has become an effective way of not only campaigning, but also sharing election news as well as opinions.

Twitter holds higher stakes in the competition now that both candidates have extremely active accounts, compared to 2008 when President Obama was the only one with a Twitter account.  Twitter now constantly updates voters on the state of the election and allows them to share with every “retweet.”  It also provides quick fact-checking, and fact-checking on fact-checking. It is a rapidly changing medium.  For instance, a Big Bird parody account (@FiredBigBird) was created during the Presidential debate on Wednesday October 3rd after Governor Romney’s comment and has already gained over 30,000 followers.

YouTube has also become a powerful tool for campaigns.  It allows all Americans to watch speeches, debates, conventions over and over again.  Candidates must always assume that everything they say can be heard by the entire country in just minutes.  An already hackneyed example of this is, of course, the video of Romney’s infamous “47 percent” comment which was leaked by the independent news organization Mother Jones and can now be viewed on YouTube [3].

Though social media has certainly developed and evolved in the past four years, not all are convinced that this is such a groundbreaking election for social media at all.  In fact, some believe that it is all hype.  Professor Spencer Kimball who teaches the Political Communication Capstone course here at Emerson and who is a political consultant himself (among other things) sees “nothing startlingly new” in terms of this election.  He references Senator John McCain’s revolutionizing of the grassroots following via the internet in 2000 and Governor Howard Dean’s introduction of online fundraising in 2004.  When President Obama ran in 2008, and almost half of his campaign donations were less than $200, he proved he had honed the craft of online fundraising [3].  However, Professor Kimball believes that this election is “just a continuation” of 2008, in relation to social media.

Professor Kimball raises the point that a lot of what we assume to be an organic spread of information with regards to this campaign is actually superficial.  With YouTube requiring users to watch paid-for campaign ads before their selected videos and even Google searches showing featured ads, it is hard to be certain what material is going viral and what is simply “astro-turfing.”  However, there is no argument that both candidates are on top of their social media game.

Perhaps this is not THE social media election, though there is a clear emphasis by both parties on the necessity to post, “like,” tweet, etc.  In 2008, the winner of the “social media election” was indeed the winner of the presidential election.  Will it be the same again this year?  Will this hold true for years to come?  It is hard to say at the present if we hold the power to elect the next president in our fingertips with every video we post and every tweet we draft.  No matter what, we do have an actual election on our hands, one in which we all must make a conscious decision to vote or not.  And that is what actually counts, isn’t it?

–Maggie Morlath  (Political Communication Major and Student Contributor)



  1. Federal Election Commission
  2. Mother Jones
  3. The Daily Beast

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