Social Media and the U.S. Elections

I have not had time to write in-depth about the intersection of social media and the recent U.S. elections, but had some fun doing a Media Bullseye Radio Roundtable (.mp3 file) yesterday.

We talked about:

  • An Internet election?
  • The dark side of of online reputation management
  • Blogging and corporate layoffs

It was, as usual fun, and simultaneously enlightening.  Thanks, Chip and Jen.




  1. Becky Richardson Says: November 9, 2008 at 2:44 pm

    It will be interesting to see if “social media” did in fact generate voter turnout. In the Media Bullseye interview, Mark mentioned that social media may not necessarily create political engagement (votes). However, social media allowed people to link to one-another, to communicate opinions and to consume information–on a global basis, in split-second timing. Garrett Graff discusses this in his book, “The First Campaign: Globalization, the Web and the Race for the White House.” Graff says, “The very technology that has transformed the global economy has transformed the campaign process as well, so that the race will be run as much on the World Wide Web as in union halls and town squares and on television.” I don’t know if it can be measured, but viral videos, Facebook causes and statuses, Twitter feeds, blogs, etc. gave voice to grassroots passion. There was definitely a lot of passion in this election,–which, I believe, led to votes.

  2. Mike Rupert Says: November 9, 2008 at 7:11 pm

    I’m with you that I can’t see any data coming out showing a one-to-one relationship in terms of social media reach and votes. But what will be able to see is a relationship to fundraising. Every other day and, in the final few weeks, two or three times a day, we got “donate $5 or more” from the Obama campaign. This money is what legitimized the campaign before the Iowa caucus and right on through election day. Your point about, well, McCain got 52 million votes is right. But just 10 million of the popular vote probably in play and Obama took a majority of those. I disagree with Garrett that the Web gives grassroots efforts a voice. Decisions were still make in a personal way with friends, family and coworkers. What it did was make it easy for like-minded people an easy inexpensive and “fun” way to be part of something. There was very little policy or philosophy in the social media I saw – Mark, you actually went offline for awhile because of the angry comments. The point is, a different candidate with Obama’s Facebook co-founder running the operations would not have been as successful. He was the right man at the right time for enough Americans. But it wasn’t just social media that did it for him.

  3. Lindsey Brothers Says: November 9, 2008 at 7:53 pm

    Following the round table discussion and article, “The Dark Side of Online Reputation,” I was encouraged to look into the issue of online rumors a bit further to see what else I could find regarding this issue.

    The International Herald Tribune, which is the global edition of the New York Times, published a lengthy article on October 12 regarding the same woman mentioned during the round table, and also shed light on other people that committed suicide following a string of negative rumors.

    “Choi’s death followed a string of high-profile suicides attributed to cyberspace harassment. Two young female celebrities, one a singer and the other an actress, killed themselves last year after insulting comments about their alleged plastic surgery flooded the Web.”

    Hong Joon Pyo, a senior government politician explained that online verbal abuse has become a government priority. Furthermore, there is even a Cyber Terror Response Center that has 900 agents working just on Choi’s case. In South Korea, identifying anybody who starts rumors leads to arrest.

    Aside from South Korea, the US had seen its fair share of online rumors and offline rumors, but has addressed them somewhat differently. Most recently (the elections), rumors were addressed through official’s Web sites, which had a special section dedicated to questionable information. Furthermore, sites such as have been developed so that people can see if that crazy, random email they received is actually factual.

    As “saving face” can sometimes sadly lead to suicide in certain cultures, many public figures (including celebrities) faced with this have actually turned negative rumors into an opportunity to not only address it, but also benefit from it.

    The actress, Denise Richards, was faced with rumors as she and her ex-husband, Charlie Sheen, battled through their divorce. Denise was asked to do interviews, and even landed her own reality show, in which she stated on a radio show I regularly listen to that she “wanted people to see the real me.”

    My point to all of this is that, nobody wants a rumor floating around about him or her, but it is interesting to me to learn about how different cultures deal with it. I am curious to see how cultures such as those in Asian countries face this issue in the future.

  4. Thira Sannikorn Says: November 9, 2008 at 9:14 pm

    As Lindsey pointed out the rumor in different countries, I started to look back to Thailand. In Thailand, people always use rumor both positive and negative, for promoting something new (celebrities and about election) to make other people remember the name.
    Last month, Thai people had to vote for Bangkok Governor and people started to use social media to get response for people (facebook, hi5, and blog) and people felt that social media could let them learn more campaign and understand what each parties want to bring to. Social media just became to be so popular in Thailand.
    However, at present, the thing is people in Thailand feel more comfortable to use social media to connect with one another and share their views about the information no matter the information is right or wrong. And we cannot really control those rumor. Most Thais are new users to social media. Thais need more time to learn how to control those messages and fix the volume of the negative rumor.

    Therefore, I do agree with what lindsey point out and really want to see the change of this issue.

  5. Adriana Gallegos Says: November 10, 2008 at 6:37 pm

    I agree 100% with Mike in that it wasn’t social media that did it for Obama. It was his policies and record that won the election. Although Obama did have a great online campaign where you felt that you were working for his campaign. I would receive about 5 emails a day from the Obama campaign giving me updates on what was happening which allowed me to feel like a part of something big. As for the comments about viral videos and Jeramiah Wright’s video which received a lot of hits it just proves the point that videos like that did not affect the outcome of the race. I think in the end like Mike said people decisions were personal made with family and based on people’s visions for this country. The social media aspect was just a fun way to speak out about how you felt about the election, but it wasn’t the deciding factor.

  6. Becky Richardson Says: November 10, 2008 at 8:19 pm

    Perhaps I should have worded my comment differently. I do not believe that social media was the deciding factor in this election. I believe that it connected people; it allowed them to share information (I am not referring to the negative comments or videos). I think we got to know the candidates in greater depth through authoritative blogs, information sharing, article postings, videos (speeches, events, etc.)–and even the Vice Presidential announcement. I think President-elect Obama (and Senator-elect Mark Warner as another example) invited followers to be a part of something through social media. Twitter feeds allowed followers to know where the candidates were, what they speaking about and when they were in a nearby town so people could join them. And our Facebook friends shared experiences, causes and information that became relevant because of trust and connectedness. Conversations were started. I think that the candidates’ passion was able to be shared in a viral way through their networks. This I think led to deeper engagement (and financial commitment, as Mike said) resulting in some (not all) votes.

  7. Mark Story Says: November 11, 2008 at 5:59 am


    Let me challenge you on the comment about the fact that “viral videos did not affect the race.” My point in the radio interview what that *we don’t know* how people interpreted the videos, just that a whole bunch of people viewed it/them. This may well have swung voters to either side.

    Did the video push voters to Obama or McCain? We don’t know. Did it win or lose the race? We don’t know.

    I caveated, and Chip added, that we will not have hard statistics on the voter makeup for quite some time. And even longer to draw the correlation between online and electoral outcomes.

    Final point – the one line that you can draw, like Mike did, is to online fundraising. But if you do this, then you also have to examine offline fundraising.


  8. Researching into the election and the role social media and the internet played, I thought the different opinions were interesting. Some going as far as saying we might not have even had the same nominees if it wasn’t for the internet. What many did say – their opinions aside – was that social media assisted these candidates in creating a reltaionship with constituents, supporters, those interested in learning more about the candidate and potential volunteers.

    I agree with this as I think social media became an avenue for creating relationships with the public. I agree with Mike and Adriana about it not being THE reason Obama was elected, but I do feel it was a strength of his campaign and a successful way to keep people involved.

    I think the bigger topic is not the role it played in the election but the role of social media for the President of the United States. With launched the day after his election, I think four years from now we will be talking about how social media not only influenced and changed the last election but how it changed communication with the public during Obama’s presidency, created a deeper engagement of the people with the government and the improved relationship between the citizens of the United States and their leader.

  9. Shilpika Das Says: November 11, 2008 at 9:03 am

    I, like Becky, feel that social media did generate a lot of passion in this election – irrespective of whether it generated voter turnout or not.
    I think online readers used social media as a tool to gather information about the campaign, share and inform opinions and eventually contribute to the political debate.
    Social media may not have directly translated into votes but it did get a large number of people, especially the younger demographic, to sit up and take notice. It made the average reader more attuned to politics.
    It certainly worked for me. As someone who had no interest in politics, I was surprised to find myself glued to the internet, actively following the elections, till the very end.
    As an international student, this was my first US elections in the country and it was great to witness it up close. I can safely say that today I have a solid understanding of US politics, a large part of which came through social media and the internet. I took an interest in politics not after hearing speech after speech of political candidates but because of the analysis that followed on the internet. Not just heavy punditry but actual dissemination of information in a compelling manner – one that made it interesting and easy to relate to. Social media gave people tools, like online calculators, interactive maps, graphs, to see how different policies, tax cuts and political views would affect them — not only as a country, a state or a town – but as an individual.
    I think social media’s biggest success was “customizing” the US elections for me as an individual — and motivating me to take part in the political conversation that followed.

  10. The role of social media in society has become quite interesting. With the election, I agree that it wasn’t the deciding factor, it didn’t hold so much influence that it dictated how the votes came out. What social media did do for this election was make information readily available, making it easy for two people to debate the candidates, to refute a rumor, or to easily find each candidate’s plans. I agree that it created a relationship with the voters. Many people felt as if they were a part of Obama’s campaign because you always knew where he was, and at many times, you could watch his speeches online. One tool that I found fascinating during the election was when twitter and Current teamed up for the elections. I sat there during one of the debates and watched it online. I think it motivated a lot of people to not only watch the debates, but really listen to what was going on because it gave them a chance to comment immediately on what was being said and to share their opinions with the general public. I do think that the use of social media got a lot of the younger voters interested in the election because they could get the information they wanted, on their own terms and not have to sit through a newscast. Even now, as the President-Elect has said he will continue using the internet, blogs, etc., it will be interesting to see how far social media can go in politics.

    Outside of the election, it is fascinating the effect that social media has had on society. For example, this past April, six teenage girls in Florida decided that they wanted to “beat up” another girl, who was once a friend, because of comments she had posted on her MySpace about the other girls. They decided to videotape the 30 minutes of physical and verbal abuse. Their intentions were to post the video on YouTube and MySpace to shame the girl and to become famous for their actions. The flip side, it was stated that the comments the girl had posted on her MySpace were by someone else that had hacked into her account. This shows the effect that social media can have on social circles, and how it has been used to “become famous”.

    It’s interesting to see the positive and negative impacts of social media. It really all boils down to how it is used, how information is disseminated, and for what purpose.

  11. It is clear that social networks affected the support for the candidates.

    This is the first Internet election, and I agree with you on the fact that there is a real correlation between social media and voting. But how much of this was related to the fact that the younger people turned up in record numbers, which are also the part of the population that are my involved with social media.

    I have to disagree with you when you say that social media is not helping create political engagement. I believe that social media is helping move communications to the next level by asking for results. We are moving into a new area where we are removing hierarchy and organization to move into more individuals to produce results. I think the results were seeing during this Presidential Campaigns, particularly among younger votes.

  12. Stumbled on something interesting today, the GOP has launched a website to open discussion on how to rebuild the party. CNN reports here:

    The website the RNC launched is

    Looks like they’re jumping on the bandwagon too now!

  13. Maime pointed out that she thinks the use of social media generated interest in the younger generation of voters interested in the election and I agree. I think this election was the first that the candidates focused on different techniques on how to reach voters. For instance, Obama created a facebook page for each state. They are both attempting to appeal to the younger demographic by social media to solidify their voice.

    That ties in perfectly with what we have been discussing in class. The internet gives people a way to control what they consume. The public no longer have to read the paper or wait for the 5 o’clock news to get the stories of the day. People have unlimited resources at their fingertips with the internet. I think both candidates took advantage of this opportunity and did a great job of promoting their campaign with social media.

    According the Reuters, social media made this election a tricky peer pressure situation. For the first time, people made it so clear who their choice was through these sites. If someone was undecided but they saw all of their friends backing one candidate, that would clearly have an influence. Has anyone heard of social media creating peer pressure for the 2008 election?

  14. Heather Lovett Says: November 11, 2008 at 12:58 pm

    After listening to the round table and blogging about corporate layoffs it brought me back to the discussion we had last week about comments you make online affecting your ability to get a job. Don’t you think negative comments about your previous job could affect how hr perceives you? Obviously getting layed off would boil anyone’s blood but you shouldn’t allow your previous company to hinder any new opportunities.

    Chip brought up a good point about how companies seem to outgrow themselves in the good times resulting in layoffs down the road. I think it’s hugely important to have a growth plan and manage your staff opposed to jumping the gun because you got a new client.

  15. Aimee Saldivar Says: November 11, 2008 at 1:05 pm

    I do agree with those of you that mentioned that social media generated information that influenced the campaigns for both candidates. I also think that from a generational perspective, most young adults today prefer to have less human and more online information fed to them via the web or video. In generations past, the only forms of social media was either rallies, newspapers or town halls. This leads me to my next point about the segment about corporate lay-offs and the communication to the employees about it. My previous company would spend an exuberant amount of money putting together semi-annual town hall events at expensive hotels, which required employees attendance after standard business hours. This type of event has its pros and cons to it. Usually, when bad news about business is going to be announced by the CEO of the company. I would think that a good old-fashion letter to homes of the employees would be better. The last time that the company let off employees because of an acquisition, there were lunch forums letting employees know what to do next after the RIF (Reduction in force) sessions. Blogging about letting people go in a company would probably tick me off as an employee.
    Also, as far as the social media and reputation management, I am shocked that Brittany Spears has not gone off the deep end permanently, considering what fun the media has had with her. I admit that I am an entertainment/celebrity junkie but I would probably go nuts about the things that some of the sites and news shows say about them. I really think that some information is too personal and should be filtered out of the public. I can understand how the Korean government would get involved because it is a cultural difference but what does that say about our own cultural in the U.S.? Does that mean we are ok with online/offline slander?

  16. I think social media may not be as “motivating” to generate more people out to vote as people think because there’s no clear direct correlation. I believe in the future there will be more studies and database to prove the effectiveness of such communication. Though, I do think social media has helped candidates a lot in conducting more personal contacts with individuals. There were a lot of facebook invites aiming at getting people out to vote. Also, on the election day, facebook put up a header on the top of the first login page, asking facebookers to click on the “I have voted” button for people to contribute to the growing numbers. Personally I think those reminders or whatever they’re called were pretty motivating for me to want to step out and doing the same thing everyone’s doing in a sense of joining this big community.

    The videos on YouTube about the two candidates were also wildspread. I think Obama’s campaign really did a fantastic job in reaching more audience through Internet and social media. Maybe that’s why McCain speech videos on the official site had more views because they had less social media outlets as Obama campaign did.

    And I do agree that easier and more efficient media comes with more chances and accesses of being utilized as another manipulating tool. So audience and communication workers should be more cautious and wiser in using online media.

  17. Anca Bilegan Says: November 11, 2008 at 2:29 pm

    I think Chip Griffin was right when he said that only a troubled person commits suicide, regardless the culture.
    The Korean cultural emphasis on “saving face” may have played an important role in Choi Jin Sil’s decision, but unless she had other serious issues, I doubt that she would have committed suicide.
    Vilfredo Pareto said “Give me a fruitful error at any time, full of seeds, bursting with its own corrections. You can keep your sterile truth for yourself”. The thousands of vicious cyber attacks on Choi reflect how people love to gossip and they don’t bother to check if they have the facts or if they have just rumors, as long as the topic is interesting enough.
    Celebrities will always have to deal with gossips and they could try to mitigate the harmful stories by being the first to talk about it when they are somehow related to those stories. As Alan Kay said “The best way to predict the future is to invent it”. Choi was probably friends with the down-on-his-luck actor whose suicide was blamed on her. I’m not saying she could have anticipated that she was to be blamed for his death, but she could have predicted that people would link her somehow to the actor. If she had posted her thoughts and regret on his death, she would have been ahead of the rumors that made her responsible for the actor’s pass away and probably there would have been less people to give attention to the rumors posted by the employee at the Seoul securities house. My point is that meaningful online presence has become a necessity.

  18. This election was definitely an INTRODUCTION to what an online campaign looks like, but wasn’t, at all, an all-out online election. I think, in 2008, we’ve only dipped one foot in the pool of online campaigning. Years from now, it’ll be interesting to see how far we’ve taken this. Chip was right in that the entire electorate was not nearly represented in their activity online. So, determining who’s ahead by facebook group members, friends, or youtube views can be misleading. Since the internet is still fairly new to society (15 yrs or so since AOL ruled the world?), young people are probably the one’s who use it more frequently as an everyday source; working or tech savvy older adults use it too, but that is not the norm. Neilsen says 75% of youtube visitors are between the ages of 12-24! Obama won the young vote early on so I believe it is natural that he saw more buzz in the social media realm. Where there are young supporters (or avid internet users) there will be a larger online showing. Ron Paul had a huge online presence, but I’m sure these numbers don’t come close to the actual number of votes he received. Until my generation grows old and we’re at the point where everyone uses the web as an everyday source of information, it’ll be hard to gauge popularity by these types of web figures.

    However, some key things did happen online this election year that should stick. Like Mike said, fund raising. This brought an enormous amount of participation (and $$$) from citizens mainly because it was so quick and easy. Also, the online dialogue between the candidates was fantastic. The Youtube debates are a perfect example of this. I think 2008 was a nice introduction to online campaigns, but far from what it could/will be.

  19. Mark Story Says: November 11, 2008 at 4:06 pm

    Good comments, Joe.

    I’m glad you pointed out that an “Internet election” is not trnasferrable to the population as a whole because a) not everyone has Internet access and b) those who do, while they tend to be more politically active, do not always fit that profile.

    I completely agree with what pretty much everyone is saying — and that is, in many ways, we have just scratched the surface of social media and elections.

  20. I hate to sound repetative, but I do agree with many of you stating that social media allowed for the younger demographics to get more involved by being able to access the information. The younger demogeaphic is defenitely more involved with social media compared to print media. As Mike and Adriana have mentioned it was not the determining factor. As Mike also stated were different determining factors that influenfed people’s decision. Some of the reasons maybe the result that this election had a large turnout of voters including first time voters. Both sides of the isle felt very strongly about either candidate. I, like others also recieved the update via email. Both candidates reached out like never before through different venues. What social media did do was to create awareness and involvement of the public to become more proactive in getting their candidate elected.

  21. Adriana Gallegos Says: November 11, 2008 at 7:34 pm


    I do agree with you that we don’t know if the video affected either McCain or Obama, but it seems like there wasn’t much coverage about the Wright video during the presidential campaign, there was more coverage on it during the primaries.

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