The Promise and Pitfalls of Social Media in American Elections

Throughout our readings we have seen how social media can be an effective medium for transmitting messages of social change and involvement. But time and again we have seen that these tools are only vessels for transmitting a message, not a guarantee of action or revolution. This week Morozov discusses the long-standing concern with treating technological developments as though they were certain fixes for societies ills. He writes of Alvin Weinberg who argued that the development of the hydrogen bomb would calm tensions between the US and the USSR without the need for diplomatic measures. He believed that technological innovation may replace the need for social engineering. Morozov argues that we must consider the risks associated with these advancements before diving in and implementing them.

One example Morozov uses is the implementation of social media in American political campaigns. Technological engagement by younger voters has led to an increase in campaign enthusiasm, but it may also lead to an eventual disconnect between elected officials and constituents. Supporters who feel their voices are respected and listened to during an election may be dismayed when their candidate is elected and pursues a legislative agenda which doesn’t reflect the views of voters. This occurrence is nothing new, but as social media brings voters and candidates closer, the outrage felt by invested activists may grow.

In class we studied the success of President Obama’s social media efforts, but social scientists haven’t yet had time to study their impact on the 2012 election. Many articles were written about a group youth distaste for political involvement. Just four years earlier experts were applauding a large and active political youth movement. This illustrates Morozov’s point that technological bandages cannot heal deeper democratic wounds. In order to build a strong activist community, young people must be fully engaged on the basis of issues important to them, not simply placated via social media. Political figures may be able to gain votes via social media, but if they wish to maintain this support though their time in office, they must uphold their campaign promises and maintain their engagement with the electorate.

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