Among the nominees for Best Picture of 2010 at this year’s Academy Awards was The Social Network, a film that chronologizes the rapid assent of Facebook. It’s hard to imagine life before social networking and new media since society has become so immersed in it. But just 8 years ago, no one had heard of Facebook, or imagined such interconnectedness via the Internet.
As a result of technology and new media, the world is in the midst of monumental, accelerated change. Like the Industrial Revolution that preceded it, the Information Age has revolutionized not just affluent societies, but the entire world. Who would have guessed that an American presidential campaign would credit social networking with helping elect its candidate. Twitter proved itself an indispensible asset, not just another time-wasting game, during the Iranian protests of 2009.
Even the conventional media outlet Los Angeles Times reported that Facebook has become an integral part of the political scene as there is a direct link between the number of Facebook fans a candidate has and the actual support he or she receives on Election Day.
Of the 98 most contested House races tracked by Facebook during the 2010 General Election, roughly 74% of the winning candidates had far more Facebook fans than their opponents. The numbers were even higher in Senate races. In 34 Senate races, about 82% of winners had more Facebook fans than their opponents.
Like nothing else before it, the Information Age has connected people; making elected leaders more accountable for their actions and giving a bullhorn to even the smallest constituent.
To put it simply, social media is transforming politics.
Candidates can no longer rely on communicating with voters through the conventional methods of television, radio or snail mail. They have to be present on the ever-expanding platforms of social networking. Once elected, representatives are increasingly turning to social media to gather feedback from their constituents and show they’re in-touch with their community’s needs. These days, leaders cannot afford to be absent from the social media conversation.
Conservatives have shown a certain reticence towards embracing new technologies, perhaps a reflection of their philosophical namesake. But because of their inability or unwillingness to embrace new media, they lost the 2008 Election and they lost a golden opportunity to connect with young voters on the cutting edge of social media interaction.
In fact, Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign was the first to implement a full-fledged social and new media strategy. In the year leading up to the November 4, 2008 election, John McCain was mentioned 150 million times on blogs. Barack Obama was mentioned 500 million times. Sen. Obama had over 118,000 followers on Twitter, while Senator McCain had just under 5,000. Perhaps the key difference between the two campaigns was that the former made social media a priority, even hiring Chris Hughes, a co-founder of Facebook, to head up “online organizing.”
The Information Age has completely transformed how politicians take in and disseminate information. It’s stunning to contemplate the influence of being able to instantly communicate with hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of voters via social media. This is rapid response 2.0.
But staying on top of the tidal wave of information can be overwhelming and time consuming. While social media has brought an unprecedented exchange of information, it has also created information exhaustion.