Week 9

Whereas last week’s readings demonstrated that Howard Dean’s campaigns seemed to have substance but lacked strategy and purpose, this week’s readings angle toward strategy in the use of social media by President Obama. YouTube, MySpace, Facebook and blogs like the DailyKos all figured into President Obama’s strategy of media use. But so, too, did traditional media – as Kreiss points out, the campaign plied a hybrid news system to both reach wide audiences and build and organize social networks on new social media platforms.

During the 2006 elections, Geuorguieva shows, YouTube and MySpace, then two of the most preeminent forms of social media, changed the landscape of campaign strategy. YouTube served as a tool for disseminating candidates’ views, especially for lesser known candidates who might not have been able to compete with better-funded incumbents or frontrunners. MySpace, like YouTube, was a free and accessible platform for candidates, but through partnerships with grassroots organizations it also encouraged voter registration and volunteering for campaigns among voters.

In the 2008 election, Obama again focused on social media like YouTube and Facebook, which Slotnick showed, but his strategy also involved traditional media. Recognizing that traditional journalists can offer a candidate a kind of legitimacy that most blogs cannot, Obama’s campaign sought interviews with major national news outlets, where it also knew it could reach large and diverse audiences. And recognizing the power of new media to organize and cement narrative, the campaign also played to blogs and social networking sites, which it knew could effect mobilization more than traditional journalism. This hybrid news system seemed to be essential to Obama’s rise as a candidate, particularly in raising his national profile (more with traditional outlets) and constructing a narrative of him as a post-partisan politician (more with social media).

Question: Does the popularity of social media , particularly with respect to Obama’s 2008 campaign, advance or hinder the political process in terms of voting forming opinions about a candidate. In other words, does potentially knowing more about a candidate due to, say, YouTube videos posted by John Doe help voters make more informed decisions, or does that merely obstruct the process by unnecessarily blurring the line between public and private?

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2 Responses to Week 9

  1. lily.yan says:

    I think you pose a very interesting question here as it addresses straddling the line between technology used to inform citizens or distract them from the actual facts. For Obama’s campaign, in particular, I believe using the opening of social media outlets created not only more of a personable appearance for the candidate, but also gave voters diverse information that they themselves could either accept as truth or filter out instead. When there are constantly new updates on Facebook, Myspace, and Youtube on the campaign, we as citizens may at times be bombarded with a plethora of private opinions, but it is up to us to responsibly decipher which of these opinions add value to our overall understanding of the candidate and which don’t. Of course, we might be swayed one way or another through friending people who are in the same social circles as us on Facebook, subscribing to channels on Youtube of people whom we can relate to, etc, but that is inevitable. But with the different views we are exposed to on a daily basis, whether online or offline, I don’t think we blindly put great deal of weight on all the countless private opinions we hear, but rather somewhat rationalize to make our own informed decisions. Maybe I am being too idealistic, but I see Obama’s campaign reaping great benefits from the social media connections that have garnered valuable public discussion.

  2. farleyan says:

    While social media has the potential to reach millions of people with message’s from any candidate, it also requires an effort from the user to find this information. Without the initial motivation of a user to find what candidates are saying on the Internet (by liking a Facebook page, following them on Twitter, visiting their YouTube channel, etc.), social media would be far less effective than it is. The problem, however, lies with the people who seek out this social media. People who are not supporters of Obama will most likely not visit his Facebook page or follow him on Twitter. But if followers of Obama share his information on Facebook or Twitter, the followers’ friends may be able to learn more about him and his policies. In that way, social media can enhance and increase knowledge of candidates, ultimately leading to a more informed voting decision. Because social media is free and accessible to anyone with Internet access, there is a lot of opportunity for peoples’ opinions to be swayed. However, if it used incorrectly (like in the Dean campaign), it can be quite ineffective because of the dependence on social network users to share candidate’s information to undecided voters.

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