In years past, American citizens watched presidential debates and then heard television commentary afterward, or read a description in the following day’s paper. For the debates of 2012, the setup had entirely changed. Now, instead of focusing on the debate and then attaining feedback, citizens were able to see live, moment-to-moment coverage of the debates. While this may seem to be beneficial, one must realize the source of this coverage: the social networking/micro-blogging site, Twitter.
In 140 characters or less, members of Twitter (more than 500 million worldwide) can “Tweet” about anything and everything — from what they ate for breakfast that morning, to where Hurricane Sandy was predicted to hit, to how the presidential candidates were performing in the debates. Essentially, people could sit and watch the debate on television while simultaneously tweeting about it from their laptops.
By using a hashtag (the # symbol), people worldwide can see what is “trending” and join in conversations from thousands of miles away. During the presidential debates, “#Election2012” or “#Debate2012” was frequently trending, which enticed more and more people to tweet their opinions or beliefs regarding the topic.
From the standpoint of a college student, this easy access to social networking and concurrent political news can be seen in both positive and negative lights. For example, one of my best friends (also a college student) is an ardent political follower and advocate. Being able to see his tweets regarding the debates as they happened gave me an entirely new insight to some of the topics being discussed. Since I trust my friend’s comments and value his opinion, I gain even more knowledge by watching the debates and being on Twitter simultaneously.
On the other hand, however, I have heard many of my classmates say that they are basing their political opinions solely on what they read on Twitter. As far as I can tell, these classmates have not watched the debates and are relying on the information tweeted by those whom they “follow” online. In fact, I heard someone utter the scary phrase that he “didn’t need to watch the debate because he got all the information he needed from Twitter.”
This year I made the decision to become more politically informed. I discussed socially relevant political topics with my friends; I tried to stay up to date by reading current news articles online; I watched the televised debates; and I used Twitter. If correct judgment is used, I believe that social networking sites such as Twitter can be a valuable resource for the exchange and dissemination of information. While being cautious and taking some of this online information with a grain of salt, we can use information found on Twitter as a springboard for our own investigation.
It is often said that the young people of America (college students, like myself) should “get more involved” in politics and vote so that our voices can be heard. But what if our voices are being influenced, and even manipulated by, social networking sites? How many votes cast for our nation’s president were based solely on information that people read on Twitter? We have entered into an entirely new age, where social media plays a much more influential role than we typically take into consideration.