Social media and political communication in the United States
The emergence of social media has changed the way in which political communication takes place in the United States. Political institutions such as politicians, political parties, foundations, institutions, and political think tanks are all using social media platforms, like Facebook and Twitter, to communicate with and engage voters. Regular individuals, politicians, "pundits" and thought leaders alike are able to voice their opinions, engage with a wide network, and connect with other likeminded individuals. The active participation of social media users has been an increasingly important element in political communication, especially during political elections in the 2000s.
Social media are changing the nature of political communication because they are tools that can be used to inform and mobilize users in new ways. Users are able to connect directly to politicians and campaign managers and engage in political activities in new ways. Each social media platform is programmed in code by developers, creating a unique digital architecture that influences how politicians and citizens can use the platform for political ends. For example, by simply pressing the "like button" on Facebook or by following someone on Twitter, users have the ability to connect with others and express their views in new ways. The option for users to share, like, or retweet political messages instantly has opened up a new avenue for politicians to reach out to voters. At the same time, social media campaigns can carry risks that are not present on traditional platforms, such as TV or newspaper ads. Whereas the political party controls all of the messaging on a TV or newspaper ad, in a social media campaign, critics and opposing party supporters can post negative comments immediately below campaign messages.
Politicians have a platform to communicate with that is different from the mainstream media. Politicians have the ability to raise large amounts of money in relatively short periods of time through social media campaigns. In 2012 president Obama raised over a billion dollars for his campaign, which broke the fundraising record. Around $690 million was raised through online donations including social media, email, and website donations and more money was raised from small donors than ever before.
Influence on elections
Democrat Howard Dean is credited with being the first politician to use the Internet for political purposes.[full citation needed] Dean served as the Governor of Vermont from 1991 to 2003 and decided to run for president for the 2004 election. Dean is credited with organizing the first campaign website, acting as a virtual headquarters for fundraising and volunteer recruitment. Dean’s website had a number of online metrics of success including the hits on his homepage, weblogs, campaign sign-ups, house parties and meet ups. Dean’s supporters hosted house parties and invited individuals to learn about Dean’s campaign. Dean also encouraged use of the website Meetup for his upstart presidential campaign in 2002, making it easy for people "with a common interest to find each other and arrange to meet, face to face". Individuals would attend face-to-face meetings to learn more about his campaign. The number of people coming out to Dean's Meetups in 600 location across the country ultimately reached about 143,000. About 75,000 individuals attended these meet-ups and more than 96% of respondents reported that they wished to become actively involved in Dean’s campaign. The engagement in face-to-face local groups "dramatically affected how involved volunteers got with the campaign. The more Meetups people attended, the higher their average donation to the campaign".
Dean won a "digital" primary election that was held on MoveOn.org with 44% of the votes. His success in the primary generated positive coverage by the news media. This early victory was important to the momentum of the campaign. Dean’s campaign was also viewed as a success for his ability to raise large amounts of money in small increments. In January 2004, his campaign had raised $41 million from supporters mostly online. A total of 318,884 individuals contributed to his campaign, with over 61% of the contributions under $200. Less than 1% of individuals gave $2,000, which was the federal limit. Dean’s fundraising behavior was opposite of his rivals. George Bush raised $130.8 million in 2003 and 68% of his donations were the maximum donation limit.
Political Origins of Facebook
Mark Zuckerberg served as a field organizer for Democrat John Kerry in the 2004 presidential election. Zuckerberg was responsible for Get out the vote and mobilization efforts. Facebook was launched the same year. The Facebook Platform relies on group formation and constant communication, both of which are goals for any political campaign. Chris Hughes, a founding member and developer at Facebook, left the company to work as an advisor for President Barack Obama. While working at Facebook, Hughes designed a Facebook profile for the then presidential candidate. Following his departure, Hughes worked on Obama’s Facebook page and utilized his knowledge of content management and new developments to outpace other candidates in relation to their online presence. Hughes created the website MyBarak0bama.com which had a similar layout and concept as Facebook.
2008 Presidential Election
The 2008 presidential election was the first election in which candidates utilized the Internet and social media as a tool for their campaigns. Then President-elect Barack Obama was the first to use the Internet to organize supporters, advertise, and communicate with individuals in a way that had been impossible in previous elections. Obama utilized sites like YouTube to advertise through videos. The videos posted on YouTube by Obama’s were viewed for 14.5 million hours.
2012 Presidential Election
By the 2012 election more candidates were utilizing a wider array of social media platforms. Politicians were now on social networking sites like Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and other new social media tools and mobile apps. Some of the candidates used social media sites to announce their candidacy. Barack Obama emailed a video to 13 million when he announced his intention to run for re-election and Mitt Romney sent out a tweet. Other candidates posted on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to announce their candidacy.
There is a clear difference between the Obama and Romney campaign's presence on social media throughout the 2012 campaign. In October 2012, President Obama had over 20 million followers on Twitter and Romney had 1.2 million. On Facebook Obama had over 29 million likes on his page and Romney had 7.9 million. On Instagram Obama had 1.4 million followers and Romney had 38,000 followers. President Obama had higher followers on all of his other social media accounts including Spotify Pinterest and YouTube, though research suggests merely following Obama or Romney on social media sites such as Facebook may have had little influence on voter behaviors. President Obama also utilized his social media accounts more than any other candidate online. He actively posted more on Twitter, YouTube and on his personal website blog.
President Obama’s campaign thrived on online donations in both 2008 and 2012. In 2008 3.95 million people donated to president Obama’s campaign. That number reached 4.4 million people during his 2012 campaign. The total online donation also rose from $500 million in 2008 to $690 million in 2012.
2016 Presidential campaign
Limitations and constraints
Social media has been used in political campaigns ranging from small local elections to larger-scale presidential elections. According to Wael Ghonim, social media can reinforce pre-existing beliefs rather than promote new ones. Social media, while a great source of gathering volunteers and money, serves the main purpose of affirming political beliefs and strengthening a political base. Another limitation of the way social media is used in political campaigns is that politicians cannot control the conversation. According to a study by Miguel del Fresno García, Alan J. Daly, and Sagrario Segado Sánchez-Cabezudo, regular friends and followers hold high levels of influence on social media, instead of blogs and campaign pages. Users with the most influence over social media fall into three different categories: users who disseminate knowledge, those who engage other people, and those who lead conversations. These three types of users are the ones who others tend to follow and listen to through social media. Therefore, for political campaigns to truly reach as many people as possible, political groups first need to get those three users talking about their campaigns on social media.
While "critics [may] worry that governance by social media will cheapen the power of the presidency by substituting hashtag activism for serious policymaking," President Obama's Administration has been credited with successfully "[leveraging] the opportunities of the digital age to maximum political advantage".
Scandals have been a part of the American political system since its inception (see List of federal political scandals in the United States). Political scandals are events that capture a lot of attention and eventually disappear over and are the source of intense public communication. The media has subsequently played an important role in both the breaking of these stories and the coverage they receive. In recent decades there have been an increased number of scandals relating to the Internet and social media. The first and most notable political scandal related to social media has been the demise of Congressman Anthony Weiner in 2011. Weiner, a Democrat from New York, sent a link of a suggestive photograph to a woman on his public Twitter account. The tweet and picture were then sent to Andrew Breitbart , a conservative blogger, who posted them to his website before Weiner had a chance to take the tweet down. Within days the Anthony Weiner incident became national news. The scandal, nicknamed Weinergate, is widely considered to be the first political sex scandal to come about as a result of social media.
Other political scandals have emerged as a result of social media. Joe Miller a Senate candidate from Alaska tweeted about decorating his office prior to any announcement that he had won the race. Miller deleted the tweets, but not before a blogger was able to screen shot them. Miller eventually lost the election. Meg Whitman a Republican candidate in California was embarrassed following a tweet sent out by her press secretary that included a YouTube video of a cross-dressed musician. Whitman lost the election to Jerry Brown. Pete Hoekstra, a Michigan Congressman, got into trouble after tweeting throughout a trip to Iraq, in which he breached security by posting confidential details about the visit. There is a changing nature of political scandals that has resulted from the increased use of social media and the Internet. Politicians are increasingly more vulnerable online as the separation between public and private life has quickly diminished in the increasingly more connected world. Political scandals are shifting from illegal or corrupt activities towards personal missteps no longer about illegal or corrupt activities.
on October 26, 2018 social network Facebook announced that it has deleted 82 accounts created in Iran that included posts advocating harsh issues such as race, immigration, and U.S. President Donald Trump, . . .. just before U.S. congressional elections on November 6.
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