Politics have changed.
Not just in the sense of how the government rolls out new policies and regulations, or how leaders go about attempting to pass a bill, but in how they address the public and appear in the eyes of the newest delegate in town: social media.
Though social media was around for the 2008 election, it was nowhere near as popular as it is today. In an article for Bloomberg Businessweek, Twitter Spokeswoman Rachael Horwitz said the 2008 contest saw a total of 1.8 million tweets on the day of the election, while today, that many tweets are sent every six minutes.
Though not every one of those tweets has to do with this year’s election, it still indicates a tremendous rise in the popularity of social media, and campaigns are taking advantage of its powerful influence.
Both President Barack Obama’s and the Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s campaigns have already spent millions to advertise online. In fact, according to the article in Businessweek, the Romney campaign became the first ever to purchase a “trending topic” on Twitter last week, which guaranteed his message would hold a prominent spot in the social networks news stream.
During Obama’s speech Thursday after accepting the democratic nomination for president, Twitter announced that a new record had been set. @barackobama drove 52,757 tweets per minute and over nine million tweets were sent with the hashtag “#DNC2012.”
Facebook has also garnered a significant following from the political masses. According to Andrew Noyes, the websites manager of public policy and communication, there are over 110,000 political Facebook pages in the United States, as well as 11,000 pages for individual politicians, he told Businessweek.
The Obama and Romney campaigns each have multiple pages on the website. As of Wednesday, Obama’s main Facebook page had over 28.2 million likes, compared with Romney’s 6.2 million.
Yet Chairman for the Centre County Republicans Daryl Schafer said he feels these numbers do not tell the whole tale.
“I think that Obama sort of had a head start on his electronic campaign four years ago,” Schafer said. “Though it wouldn’t surprise me if the young voters who may be using this sort of media did identify with Obama more than they do with Mitt Romney.
Still, Schafer said he still does not believe that the numbers can tell much about what is going to happen in November.
The Obama campaign also leads the way in the world of Twitter, with just over 19.3 million followers. Romney has just over one million followers.
Despite the significant gap between numbers, both are significant totals. Utilizing social media online lends both campaigns well over a million potential people that will consistently publicize and advertise every action of the campaign.
While all this scrutiny is not always positive in nature, it still serves to get the masses talking, which is, essentially, the ultimate goal of any campaign.
Nick Aquilante, a member of Penn State’s Students for Obama campaign, said this weight of social media will become more evident as the election draws closer.
“I think the candidates will act more cautiously,” said Aquilante (senior-political science), “because they understand that what they do could almost immediately end up online.”
Social media is also vastly changing how this election season is being reported by the news media. CNN said it plans to employ Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and FourSquare in their coverage of the election season, as well as maintaining a live blog and an iReport page, which will publish the best multimedia submissions they receive from the public.
“(This election) may well be the first truly social election in U.S. history… as a result, the national conversation will play a bigger role than ever in the way news organizations cover the story,” Lila King of CNN wrote.
The widespread use of social media in politics is not without its criticisms, however. Both campaigns have recently come under fire as some feel they have overstepped their bounds.
This particularly has occurred in the area of advertising on social media platforms. The online journal ProPublica reported on one case, in which the online radio, Pandora, angered listeners when a message appeared on their screens asking them to share their email addresses in order “to help Mitt Romney become the next president.”
In an email statement to ProPublica, Pandora said that it could not comment on particular clients marketing strategies, but that it offers campaigns both targeting for specific listeners based on favorite artist or type of music, or by their age, gender, state, county or congressional district.
However, Penn State student Sarah Degrazia, (senior-health policy administration) said she does not feel that campaigns should stop the employment of these advertising tactics just because it angers a few.
“I know people that do get annoyed by these ads,” she said, “but I can see why [the campaigns] do it…Obviously, it is a very effective way of going after younger voters as many of us are online far more than we are watching television.”
Another point of annoyance in the campaign on social media is in the area of mobile apps. One particular application, released by the Obama campaign at the end of July, included a Google map that pinpointed nearby democratic households, which any subscriber to the app can view. Each of these marked addresses displays the first name, age and gender of the voter that lives at it.
This is explained in the application’s licensing agreement, which tells users that it may use information including, but not limited to, location.
After hearing about the app, Penn State student Cole Lennon (sophomore -economics) had mixed feelings.
“In some ways, I can see why some people might take issue with it,” Cole said, “but if you are willing to give that info away when you sign up for the app, than you have to understand what form that info is out there in, and how it is going to be used.”