Take a second and imagine the last time you opened a credible print publication, like the Boston Globe or the New York Times, to get the latest news. It’s probably unlikely that that has happened in the last 24 hours, at least, and that’s largely because you get you follow the New York Times or TMZ on Twitter. With constant updates, it’s just as easy to keep up with the Kardashians as it is to follow world news.
With that said, the 2012 President Election hasn’t gone untouched by the likes of social media. From sites dedicated to election memes (which is so World War II) to interactive tweets from the nominees themselves asking you to “RT if you agree,” it’s hard to ignore the influence social media has exerted in the current election process. Never before has it been so easy for candidates to reach their constituents and offer the feeling of a personal interaction with them. Staying up-to-date with the president and his opponent is just a tweet or status update away.
Social networks have also been flooded with facts about each candidate, their policies and, of course, opinions to accompany it all. At a time like this, many contract the “expert syndrome.” A term lovingly coined by yours truly, expert syndrome is where people see a few tweets summarizing an important debate or issue and take to their respective social media accounts to comment on the information as if they did all of their own research. While many people have complained about such episodes, after some reflection, it’s actually refreshing. Social media has allowed for the dissemination of important information and relevant opinions to reach the masses. Most everyone is qualified to vote, whether they are informed or not, and it is preferable for someone have easy access to summaries of what/who they will be voting for than staring blindly at a ballot.
Social media also makes this election more accessible to the average voter than previous elections. An exceptional example of this is the way YouTube was integrated to Twitter to live stream debates. Candidates and political officials tweeted links to the online video that would enable people, who may have opted to browse the cyber world rather than watch their televisions to take part in the updates. People who may not have even known about the debates were suddenly able to educate themselves on a platform that used to be strictly for catching up with friends or maybe your guilty pleasure of watching cat videos.
Similarly, these sites have also reminded individuals that they aren’t at the mercy of their location on Election Day. Common folk and political figures alike have prompted more people to request absentee ballots, and the number of absentee voters has amplified from the 2008 election. Changes like these could very well decide the outcome of the election, and social media can take a lot of the credit for acting as a catalyst to the shift.
Personally, I find that social media has done a great deal of good regarding this election because it has acted as a bridge between two important elements of the modern world – social life and current events. If we could only figure out how to tweet our votes instead of going to the polls…