Social Sites Encourage Political Punditry
Political action doesn't require much actual action these days. Engagement can be as simple as clicking on a Like button or reposting a friend's snarky observation. Although nearly 40 percent of all American adults express their political or civic interests through social media channels, it's not clear whether this activity has much effect on the outcome of the vote.
10/22/12 8:24 AM PT
Social media, already part and parcel of many Americans' lives, has also become a channel through which they participate in politics. Sixty-six percent of social media users -- or 39 percent of all American adults -- have engaged in some form of civic or political activity via social media, suggests a new survey conducted by the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project.
These users tend to be more politically "pure" than moderates, according to the report. That is, Democrats using social media are more likely to be liberal Democrats, while Republicans are more likely to be conservative Republicans.
Vive la Différence
That said, there are differences -- albeit minute, in many cases -- in the way the two ideological camps use social media. For instance, liberal Democrats are more likely to use the Like button; 52 percent of them have done so, compared to only 42 percent of conservative Republicans.
Democratic social media users tend to be more vocal in encouraging people to vote, with 45 percent having done so, compared to 36 percent of Republican social media users and 31 percent of independents.
Republican social media users, however, are more likely to repost content related to political or social issues. Thirty-nine percent had done so, based on the survey results. That compares to 34 percent of social media using Democrats and 31 percent of Independents.
Social media can turn anyone into a pundit, said Debra J. Caruso, principal of DJC Communications.
"So many formerly circumspect people are making their opinions known via Facebook and Twitter," she told the E-Commerce Times. "Perhaps people feel safer because their punditry is not face-to-face; they're hiding behind their computer and phone screens."
Certainly there is something to that, but social media also tend to unleash people's inner comic -- or inner snark, as the case may be. One only has to search for the latest Internet meme -- "binders full of women" -- which sprang from presidential candidate Mitt Romney's lips during the last debate, to see that behavior in action.
It's not that political memes are new.
"We can think of past examples from presidential debates -- [Bush's 'Read my lips: no new taxes' or Bentsen's 'Senator, you are no Jack Kennedy' or even McCain's 'That one' comment)," recalled Jaime Settle, assistant professor of government at the College of William & Mary. "But there was no way for the spread of these memes to go viral, and people had fewer cues about what other people were paying attention to or were amused by."
Write a Letter? I Don't Think So
The fact that social media makes participating in the political process much easier likely accounts for its heavy use in this respect, Kevin French, executive director and general manager of G2 USA, told the E-Commerce Times.
"That's why the Facebook Like is so popular -- there are few things that require less effort than one click," he said. "How many people actually wrote their congressmen in the past? Social media has made that ability almost effortless, it provides a platform and an audience -- and in some cases, it even makes it fun."
Will It Make a Difference?
Perhaps the question to ask is not whether people are using social media to participate in the political process -- clearly they are, with great gusto in many cases -- but whether this participation will make a difference in the actual election.
Social media might be having a slight impact on voter participation and turnout, Jonathan Kopp, partner and global director of Ketchum Digital, told the E-Commerce Times. (Kopp served as a leading strategist with the 2008 Obama for America campaign.)
What's more to the point, he said, is that "we've not seen social media proven as a persuader of which candidate to vote for."