Posted December 4, 2012
By CONNIE FOSSI
School of Communication
University of Miami
A photo of President Barack Obama hugging the First Lady, Michelle Obama, posted on the Democratic campaign’s Twitter account along with the caption “four more years” was the first resource that the blue party used to announce its victory on Election Night.
The tweet was posted at 11:16 p.m. and it was re-tweeted 128,469 times just nine minutes after. It did not only become the most tweeted picture of the history of the social media site but also the most “liked” Facebook post of all times, according to the Business Journal.
Social media sites became an important vehicle of expression for many voters, a breaking news tool for media organizations, and a relatively inexpensive way of campaigning for presidential, state and local candidates in the 2012 election.
The constant use of social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube made many news organizations referred to the 2012 presidential race as “The Social Media Election.”
Teresa Frontado, online editor of El Nuevo Herald, thinks that this statement is not far from reality.
“I believe that for the first time technology and users have catch up. The users have become more savvy, have become more sophisticated in how the use social media and the kind of information they want to get from it. So I will definitely agree with that statement, this was the election that really sealed the importance of social media,” she said.
According to a Pew Research Center study published on Oct. 19, four in 10 American adults use social networking to engage in political or civic activities.
The same study reported that about 39 percent of American adults have done a form of civic or political activity with social media sites including promoting material related to politics, encouraging people to vote, and motivating people to take action on a particular social issue.
Another Pew Research Center report published on Nov. 2, stated that 55 percent of registered voters watched political videos online during the election season. The most popular videos were news reports about the political process.
Laurie Charles, 22, is a journalism student of the University of Miami who followed the 2012 presidential campaign throughout social media sites, especially Facebook and Twitter.
Even though she believes that social media kept voters updated about the presidential race, she noticed that they also led to conflicts between users with different party affiliations.
“You could just post a simple comment about the election and people gave back very hurtful and opinion-based answers,” said Charles.
In an article published by ABC News on Nov. 6, Election Day was described as “one of the most shared and commented-on event in social media history.” More than 20 million tweets were generated that day.
The article also reported that 3,000 tweets with the word “voted” were posted every minute throughout the day of the election.
On Nov. 6, the Pew Research Center revealed that 22 percent of registered voters announced their vote for president on Facebook and Twitter. The study also showed that 1 in 5 registered voters shared their voting behavior on social media.
According to Forbes.com, social media sites were also a resource that voters used to highlight important and controversial moments of the campaign, including the presidential debates, the “Clint Eastwood moment” at the Republican National Convention and the release of the 47 percent video by Mother Jones.
“Social media allows you to be updated about what is going on. This was the case of the 2012 presidential election,” Charles said.
Since the beginning of the campaign, President Obama and GOP candidate Mitt Romney maintained a strong presence in social media sites. Both campaigns launched active Facebook, Twitter and YouTube accounts and they were constantly monitored by news organizations.
“From the reporters’ point of view, a lot of the big players on the election were involved in social media so it became another space that you needed to follow in order to be a more accurate reporter,” Frontado said.
Dr. Marcus Messner, an assistant professor at Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Mass Communications, sees the 2012 presidential campaign as a continuation and proliferation of changes in media platforms that started in previous elections.
“From blogs we went to MySpace and Facebook and now to Twitter and Tumblr. We also saw the beginnings of mobile campaigning,” he said.
Roberto Moreano, is an online producer for El Nuevo Herald and was in charge of following Twitter activity on Nov. 6. He claims that social media sites facilitated reporters’ job during the election coverage.
“As a news organization, we don’t want to be left out of the conversation. Social media sites helped you to identify what your readers are talking about and to create stories that represent them,” he said.
“We made our readers feel part of the coverage,” Moreano added.
Although the majority of voters used traditional forms of media to acquire information about the election, some people argue that the use of social media sites to get the news will continue to increase.
“The concepts of social networking and micro-blogging are definitely here to stay. They have already changed the way we are communicating today,” Messner said.
“Traditional media organizations, which are not adopting these platforms and cling only to their old news dissemination channels, will probably not last much longer,” he concluded.
The success of social media sites strongly relies on their convenience and fast-paced nature for many.
“We are in a society that more and more people are on the go and social media has the ability to provide information on the go,” Frontado said.
“Everything is social media now. You hear about the breaking news stories through Twitter and Facebook,” Charles said.
Social media sites were not only a useful resource for voters and news organizations but also for candidates, even at a local level.
Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, a Florida House of Representatives member for District 116, took advantage of the benefits of social media sites during his last campaigns.
“It is definitely cheaper than other forms of campaigning. Reaching 3,000 people can cost between $3,000 to $5,000. On the other hand, if I have 4,000 followers on Facebook, it does not cost me anything,” he said.
“I did spent more dollars in social media and online media than the other candidates and that ultimately benefited me,” Diaz said.
The Democratic campaign significantly invested in social media sites and they got positive results. President Obama received more attention in social media than his Republican contender, Mitt Romney.
As of now, Obama has more than 28 million followers in Twitter while Romney counts with only 1 million followers. An approximate of 33 million people “like” the president’s Facebook page versus the 11 million who “like” Romney’s.
In YouTube, the situation remains the same. There are more than 712,000 videos related to the key word “Barack Obama” while there are 245,000 videos in connection to Mitt Romney.
During the parties’ national conventions, Obama acceptance’s speech was viewed nearly five times more than Mitt Romney’s big moment, which only received 1.1 million views in YouTube.
“The Obama campaign seemed to have much more of an emotional appeal in its social media campaign. The Romney campaign’s Facebook and Twitter feeds seemed to re-post much more material that was already available on the campaign’s website,” Messner said.
“Obama’s campaign’s efforts in micro-targeting social media audiences were very effective,” he said.
University of Miami Political Science Prof. Joseph Uscinski, who has conducted research on media bias and elections, believed that the impact of social media sites in the 2012 presidential election has been overrated.
“There are few things that really drive elections’ outcomes and they don’t have anything to do to with being young or using Facebook or Twitter or any of those things,” he said.
“People who are Democrats vote democrat their entire life and people who are Republican vote republican their entire life. So, it is not that all the sudden Twitter came along and people switch to a party. That doesn’t happen,” he added.
Even though the majority of his district’s voters are not active members of this type of sites, Diaz argues that the use of social media has become an important part of campaigning in the United States.
“It is a form of investment in future voters. It is also another form to communicate directly with the voters,” he said.
Although social media sites changed the dynamics of three important actors during this election: the candidates, the media and the voters. The basic rules of campaigning and election coverage have not changed for many.
“Before social media existed, before the Internet existed, before anyone had a home computer, politics were all the same. It is just a new format to do the exact same thing,” Uscisnki said.