Social Media, the political activist’s tool of the future; revolutionizing campaigns in a way the world has never seen… right?
Micah Sifry reports his take in a recent CNN article that social media is not a good representation of how well a candidate is doing in a political race. However, if one were watching CNN the night of the Iowa Caucus, one might have a different impression.
CNN used a social media ticker that provided live updates on tweets and status updates across several large social media outlets. The system calculated mentions of each candidate and compiled the information into graphic representations.
Similarly, as Sifry reports: “The worst of the new wave is the Washington Post’s new MentionMachine tool ‘that monitors Twitter and media across the Web for political candidate mentions, revealing trends and spikes that show where the conversation is and why.’ It claims that ‘growth in the numbers of legitimate followers or a high recurrence of retweets are both indicative of growing grass-roots support.’”
Conversely, Sifry argues: “growth in followers or high numbers of retweets are just an indication of notoriety or celebrity. Saying simple, stupid things that lots of people want to tell their peers about can get you tons of followers and retweets. But it doesn’t mean anything definitive about grass-roots support.”
This phenomenon is no new insight; take the example of everyone’s favorite billionaire, Donald Trump. Trump is an Internet giant, with just under 1,000,000 twitter followers. And even though he gained a lot of popularity in 2011 with many people hoping that he would consider running for office, after a few months, he petered out and died. People stopped taking him seriously after weeks of outrageous “birther” remarks.
Sifry points out: “This isn’t to say that campaigns should ignore social media, or that efforts by voters to influence the election by organizing online are pointless. But just because you can count something and chart it doesn’t mean you’ve proven anything.”
He considers Newt Gingrich: “(Newt Gingrich’s has) 1.4 million Twitter followers. On Huffington Post, Alan Rosenblatt demolishes the notion that this means he’s popular among Republicans. Half of those accounts aren’t in the United States. And half of all Twitter accounts aren’t even active.” With Gingrich, his numbers aren’t mere exaggerations, they are borderline lies.
Santorum’s late surge in Iowa also provides some perspective to the hype. The former Pennsylvania Senator did not allocate nearly as much attention to social media as rivals Romney or Obama. Instead, Santorum was at ground level in Iowa shaking hands and kissing babies. Taking the more traditional route proved effective for Santorum. If there is one good thing that can be said about his campaign, it’s that he knows his audience.
The religious right doesn’t retweet Santorum the way that college students do for Ron Paul.
And there is the last conundrum, the campaign of Ron Paul. Paul’s social media numbers are always staggering. This can be traced back to the massive support he draws from college students. Libertarianism is on the rise for the younger generations, and Paul, if anyone, has no lack of keyboard vindicators.