Friday, 9 November 2012

Social Media and Elections

Well the dust has settled and Obama has been re-elected, to some that's a surprise to others not so much I was in the he'll probably get back in minus a couple of states crowd myself.  What did surprise me is how poor the "others" did falling below two million votes combined. I wasn't expecting the Greens or Libertarians to make in roads or anything I did however think they'd (combined anyway) do better with growing dissatisfaction on both the mainstream left and right parties, even during the election coverage (BBC, yes I stayed up again) I saw supporters of both Mitt and Barack decrying the two party system in the same breath that they lauded there choice.

But more important then the actual result, what can we learn from this? quite a bit actually. I expect a lot of pundits will be hard at work publishing articles about America's demographics in particular women and Latino's and the role of campaign financing given that this was the most expensive election for both Presidential and Senate candidates, and of course America's attitudes to social issues like Same sex marriage with Maine, Maryland and Washington voted in favour while Minnesota narrowly rejected a ban on same sex marriage.

In the Senate the first openly homosexual (lesbian specifically) candidate was sucessfully elected, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin.

In addition pot smokers can rejoice in Colorado and Washington (but not Oregon hope they didn't celebrate too early) also cannabis remains a federally illegal drug so I'm sure there will be legal bumps in the road there.

"Yesterday's elections have forever changed the playing field regarding cannabis prohibition laws in America (and probably in large parts of the world too)," Allen St. Pierre, executive director of NORML -- the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws -- wrote in a celebratory blog Wednesday.
But Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper warned it's too soon to "break out the Cheetos" since his state must still navigate federal laws before citizens can legally buy and sell cannabis.
The Drug Enforcement Administration quickly tried to spoil their Rocky Mountain high, issuing a statement Wednesday morning saying the DEA's "enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act remains unchanged."

So plenty of ground to cover for political animals. Who knows perhaps I'll flap my mouth about them a bit more in the future. But today what I really wish to discuss is the role of the Social Media in politics. We've already discussed how things like twitter and facebook can cause Dictators a few headaches but what about us in the liberal west with our established Democratic process and election monitoring? Surely the region that uses social media the most can come up with a few ways to link it up to the ballot box.

You better believe it can, hell its been going on for sometime, a few tech savvy  pundits declared 2008 a "Social Media" Election, which maybe were the mistake that Obama was/is a Socialist* came from. Still don't have a theory for the whole secret Muslim/Kenyan born thing comes from beyond latent racism though.

So lets take the opportunity to remind ourselves of the November four years ago, and compare it to now, and see if America's political heavyweights have been able to break a few "like" ceilings on Facebook or whatever the hell the new trendy internet hook up site is.
Anyone with a Facebook or Twitter account has probably noticed an increase in the number of political postings over the past few years. This is due, in part, to the explosive rise in social media outlets and users. But voters are not the only people who use social media; among politicians, 9 out of 10 Senators and Representatives have Twitter accounts. However, many are starting to wonder if social media is becoming less a reporter of political races and more of a predictor of the results. In Senate races, the candidate with more Facebook friends than his or her opponent has won 81% of the time. And one email sent to 60 million Facebook users prompted an additional 340,000 people to vote in the 2010 election. This infographic illustrates just how politics and social media are affecting each other.

Social Media Election 

Source  Open Site

Well that certainly was informative, it is a little  dismaying to see how below average my social media presence is but then I am a creature of strange habits (and hats). Anyway back to substance, on the whole I think the use of social media for information spreading is a good thing, the main problem with the mainstream media (everything from television to newspapers) is that since only a few people control them, and usually those people are older, male, from the same ethnic group and social circles meaning even in magic world of best intentions there will be some disconnect with what the media thinks the public want and care about and what it actually does want and care about.

I did however find it a bit strange that the third parties didn't make a bigger push on social media given there long time effective blacklisting from any major news coverage, when was the last time you saw more then two Candidates debating each other? Its true that their vote shares are very poor compared to the Republicans and Democratic candidates even when one absolutely hammers the other, but surely part of that reason is the lack of access to the media for those parties to make there case. I mean the Black Panthers were effectively went national overnight thanks to one day of coverage when they took shotguns to Sacramento.

Granted I can't see Jill Stein going this far, but she did get arrested.
Well maybe that will be a development for the future, I know they have plenty of activists out there online, If Ron Paul can have "Paul 2012" spammed onto every youtube video in existence for a month I'm sure a couple of other political colours will start trending very soon.

Of course its not all rainbows and sunshine, there are some side effects to the replacing CNN with Blogger, the main strength of the internet is in my view its democratising power, that you don't have to be a professional or officially recognised to do something interesting, help out on some cause or help raise awareness of an issue. However that does come with a significant drawback, there's no guarantee that the information you are receiving is accurate some (mostly South Africans) have accused myself of providing bias or inaccurate information (though strangely when pushed they rarely bother to come up with a specific, example) it is quite a serious problem that the internet is perfect breeding ground for urban myths and conspiracy theories.

Fortunately not only is it easy to lie on the internet it is also very easy to double check. What I usually do when I find a very interesting piece of knowledge that seems to have slipped under the radar from a new site or source is search the sources it gives and looking up similar stories. Its by no means perfect but one thing University taught me is its fine to be wrong if every source of information (preferably from those at least pretending to be more grounded in the subject then yourself) told you this was the case. Its also saved me from some embarrassment and introduced me to some new sources of information that have enriched my understanding of the world.

And fortunately it appears I'm not alone in this habit its good to see a majority (53% could be better) also double checking what they get fed from the news. So who knows maybe the ultimate losers will be the rich and powerful whom spent all that time effort and money controlling an industry that's about to become redundant. But then that would explain the recent fervour that big business has been lobbying governments across the world to start cracking down on the world wide web.

* If your confused the definition of Socialism is simply a society were the means of production are controlled by the working population (the "Social" because they are the majority component) instead of the bosses (whom represent the societies capital hence "capitalist"). The reason why perceptions of Socialism have been dominated by phrase like "big government" "Nationalisation" and "State control" is that in most nations the dominant Socialist group or party believed or believes that the best or quickest way to achieve such a society has been through using the state. In fact many ideologies including some strains of Conservative thought can also feature a well entrenched state within the economy, which is why the term "State Capitalist" exists.

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