Social media and web 2.0 have been prominent in reshaping the political sphere. The Miller article discusses how the Obama administration owes everything to their use of the internet. Nowadays, most any politician doesn’t have a chance at election without the strategic use of the web and social media.
Key to any successful internet campaign is knowledge of what Robert Putnam, author of ‘Bowling Alone’ calls ‘Social Capital’. “Like any other form of capital, social capital can be used to achieve benevolent or malevolent ends.” Putnam understands the influential power of social capital and its effect on society as well as government. In his book Putnam discusses the bonding and bridging aspects of social media. Bonding: A form of social capital that is inward looking and tends to reinforce exclusive identities and homogenous groups. We connect to people like us. Bridging: A form of social capital that is outward looking and tends to encompass people across diverse social classes. Connecting to people of different religions, class, minority, race and ethnicity, which can expand our horizons and ourselves. Social Media gives everyone a voice, its ease of connection to everyone and speed of information flow makes it possible for all to be socially and politically engaged with their environment from home. Social Media is mobile and at the fingertips of almost every social class in America, even the poor who can’t afford a computer can always spend time on one at public libraries, college campuses and internet coffee shops. Putnam says “Social media helps us overcome thin citizenship: political tolerance, active participation, consistency, ability to identify interests and ability to act on them.”
Social Media has a large presence in our society. During the 2008 election year, Nearly a quarter of American time spent on the Internet is spent on Facebook, 15% of online Americans were tweeting and two thirds of Americans were using some kind of social network. Politicians cannot afford to overlook those statistics.
Political effectiveness is being based more and more on social networks because of what we call ‘trust filters.’ People are using the internet and social media to fact check claims and evaluate the quality of information. This allows individuals and their networks to “act like broadcasters and publishers” and therefore transform the nature of political communications. Politicians must now earn the trust of social networks in order to be influential. Campaigns are becoming less centered in terms of the politicians control over debate topics and more focused around social networks. People are beginning to organize their own networks and candidates are being forced to answer questions they may not wish to answer. This involves everything from the questions that get asked during debates to the manner in which journalists cover the election. Social media has created virtual opportunities for citizen feedback and deliberation. Political campaigns use periodic surveys and comment forms to solicit feedback from the public, which in turn allows them to help shape the output. Social media has offered ways to reconnect citizens and leaders, creating more of a sense of public responsiveness and accountability.
Social media commentary is being embedded in news coverage. Reporters are scouring youTube, Facebook and Twitter and incorporating the opinions of ordinary people in their reporting. This leads to more enhanced democratic conversation and gives citizens more of a voice in national debates. Social media is even being used by ordinary people for direct persuasion. A Pew research study found 43% of Americans had tried to convince someone to vote for a specific candidate through a social network. Social media has helped improve the diversity of information dissemination and exposure. People are being exposed to more views than in the past which enriches national dialogues and allows them to get the kind of information that helps them evaluate candidates and policy ideas. Social media has also created new opportunities for engagement using mobile communications. Smart phones enable activists to reach new audiences and involve them in the political process. Politicians are employing Facebook comments and status updates and using other social media avenues to drive civic conversations. Political candidates have even begun to directly interface with the public using such social networking sites as Facebook, Twitter and Reddit.
Here is an ABC news segment on the Social Media effect on the 2012 elections:
- Bowling Alone – Robert Putnam