November 6 will be here before you know it, but not without political banter via social media along the way. Around 75 percent of people have, at one time or another, posted some content of a political nature on Facebook. On Election Day in 2008 there were 1.8 million tweets, now there are 1.8 million tweets sent every six minutes. Undoubtedly, this election has been and will continue to be the most socially-connected season ever.
Take the debates for example. According to Twitter, the first presidential debate was the most tweeted about event in U.S. political history, topping numbers from both the Democratic National Convention and the Republican National Convention. YouTube streamed the debate live on its politics channel. Twitter launched a page dedicated to following the debates. Those following the debate on Twitter jumped all over Jim Lehrer’s lack of control over the debate as “Poor Jim” was trending topic and a “silent Jim Lehrer” Twitter account was quickly created and is now more than 7,000 followers and counting.
The debates, speeches and interviews with the candidates are a great way for those who may not proactively seek out political information to be a part of the conversation and get informed before November 6. On the other hand, I wonder whether a lot of people putting in their two cents on social media (many of them potentially snarky attacks sans fact-checking) are actually being influenced or influencing others with their political material.
Most importantly, I’m curious if political content via social media inspires people to take the final step and vote. ‘Liking’ a politician on Facebook or writing a 140-character complaint about a candidate’s comment on taxes on your laptop whilst laying on the couch and eating popcorn is one thing, but doing your duty as a citizen and driving to your polling location and waiting in line to cast your vote is quite another.
A study recently released by a professor at the University of California in San Diego (UCSD) confirmed that we are indeed influenced by the political messages we read on Facebook. The study compared two groups of Facebook users – those who saw a non-partisan message to “show up at the polls” and those who didn’t. The researchers found that about one-third of a million more people showed up to vote if they saw the message. With how close some elections have been in the past, those could have been deciding votes. Kind of amazing, isn’t it?
Unfortunately, a lot of the content we see via social media is not the simple non-partisan messages urging us to do our civic duty. More often than not, they are opinions that make us want to “mute rabid friends and loved ones this election season without starting an all-out war.” However, looking at influence from partisan messages would make a very interesting follow-up study. Perhaps this is something we can look forward to in 2016.
I want to hear from you! Do you discuss your views, or keep them mum? Has your opinion been swayed one way or another by something you’ve read via social media? Please comment below!
— Laura Cumbow is an account executive at Airfoil Public Relations, a high tech PR agency with offices in Detroit and Silicon Valley.