The election season is in full-force following the Republican and Democratic National Conventions, and both parties’ need for young voters has brought social media to the forefront of campaigns.
Two weeks ago, people tweeted more than 4 million times about the Republican National Convention, according to statistics compiled by RNC organizers.
A study released by Pew Internet and American Life Project found 86 percent of people between the ages of 18 and 29 use social media, making it an easy way to connect young voters with politics and politicians.
ASU Hugh Downs School of Human Communication assistant research professor Scott Ruston, who specializes in media technologies, said this election season has seen a dramatic expansion in political social media activity in comparison to the 2008 season.
Campaigns are using social media because it is inexpensive and it reaches a wide audience on a unique level, Ruston said.
“Social media adds personal endorsements (to politicians) and it spreads rapidly,” Ruston said. “With traditional broadcast messages, who knows who sees them?”
The number of tweets per day has increased by more than 1,100 percent since 2008, according to statistics released by Twitter.
While social media provides an easy platform for political communication, it can lead to oversimplification of complex political issues and a superficial understanding of policies, Ruston said.
Voters risk forming their political opinions based on incomplete information, he said.
Twitter’s 140-character post limit does not provide enough space to represent the complicated issues, so they often get boiled down into superficial sound bites, Ruston said.
“YouTube videos and Facebook posts can go more into depth with policy,” he said.
Social media has increased the participatory element of politics and encourages users to take the next step and learn more about the issues presented, Ruston said.
ASU Italian exchange student Elisa Serafini, originally a master’s student at Liuc University in Milan, said spreading political issues through social media is more effective than through traditional news sources.
Serafini, as an active Facebook and Twitter user, has managed social media accounts for Italian politicians.
“You reach so many people,” she said. “If you see your friend retweeting something from a politician, you are more willing to listen rather than hear it from television or newspapers.”
Serafini said she has many friends who were not interested in politics until relevant issues began appearing on their Facebook newsfeed.
“Since Facebook is so full of politics, they are more interested in it now,” Serafini said. “Social media is doing a great job of involving young people.”
Tourism junior Christie Rounds said social media is an effective way to spread political information, but doubts people will change their political opinions based on what they see online.
Although Rounds liked Mitt Romney’s Facebook page, she uses Facebook primarily as a way to keep in touch with friends.
“I don’t post anything political because I don’t want to get into a debate with anyone,” Rounds said.
Rounds said her friends post and share political statements all the time.
“Sometimes I look into (what they’re talking about),” Rounds said. “Sometimes that’s the first place I read about anything that’s going on.”
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