Wednesday, 17 October 2012

President of the Internet?

by Emily Duff

The 2008 presidential election in America was heralded as the first ever to effectively use social media to the advantage of candidates, used to entice and encourage voters. In particular, Obama was applauded for his use of Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking sites as a way to draw together funds, support and votes from across the internet. At the time, this new form of campaigning had not been used so successfully in any previous election. Even with such an improvement, though, the previous claims that 2008 would be the ‘internet election’ were largely thought to be incorrect. Despite the expansion of Obama’s web presence, the ‘internet election’ appeared only to be a small battle in a much larger war. In 2012, however, the race to the White House won’t just be held in town halls, conventions, in Washington DC, and on the television.

Romney/Ryan and Obama/Biden websites
As of September, 88% of registered voters are thought to own a mobile phone. The number of those who could regularly be updated with election information through the internet or promotional texts is incredibly significant. A whole new war is being fought, where it is much harder to judge the winner.

The question is, therefore, which candidate is going to exploit all the opportunities the internet has to offer to the greatest degree? And how must the inevitable mockery and online anger be accounted for?

Currently, it is generally agreed that Obama has a stronger online presence than Romney. His previous term in office has, of course, meant he is better known than his opponent.  In 2008, Obama’s campaign saw campaign text message updates, a new website, and towards the end, a smartphone app. Romney has no such background on which to base a national social media campaign. This shows, too, in the statistics showing online support for the two candidates. Obama has over 30 million Facebook ‘likes’ while Romney lags with only around 9 million. Obama has over 20 million followers on twitter, compared to Romney’s 1.5. Obama, on average, tweets over 25 times a day more than Romney, giving him a greater scope for reaching voters.
Obama/Romney videogame
Tellingly, the first YouTube result for Obama is a speech in Virginia; for Romney, the top result is “Mitt Romney Style” a parody of the “Gangnam Style” dance (I recommend you watch it). This illustrates just how different the online perception of the two candidates is. Other popular videos about Obama include him calming a crying baby, an explanation about his work supporting Native Americans, and why Snoop Dog is voting for Obama. Romney’s include “Mitt Romney lies”, “Romney vs. Big Bird” and also, why Snoop Dog is voting for Obama.

However, it is possible that the huge gap between Romney and Obama doesn’t truly reflect the electorate. In fact this is a certainty. Without being presumptuous about the supporters of either party, statistics seem to suggest that Democrats have a greater active online presence than Republicans, meaning that the ‘internet election’ is actually just another factor in the hugely wide range of elements in a presidential campaign.

So, is this ‘cyber-war’ completely one-sided? Possibly, but maybe that doesn’t mean a great deal. The truth is, the majority of voting will not take place online, and the majority of voters will have been subjected to a huge amount of propaganda and campaign literature, not to mention all the television surrounding the elections; their choice won’t be based on a montage of Obama speeches to the tune of “Call me Maybe”.  In the 21st Century, social media is certainly taking on an increasingly significant role, but I’m not convinced that we have yet reached the point where the election is won on the web.

The above mentioned, Mitt Romney Style:

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