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October 4, 2012

Effectiveness of social media on election remains unclear

TERRE HAUTE — Some famous movie stars and singers are trying to use social media to encourage young people to discuss the issues and vote in the November election.

But just how effective social media have been overall in accomplishing that goal in recent elections “is not conclusive … it’s a new medium,” says Carly Schmidt, a political science instructor at Indiana State University.

Still, use of social media is “a great thing,” she said. When young people put something on Facebook or Twitter, “They share it with peers who may not know anything about it … Politics has a great opportunity to reach more people with social media.”

Social media also can help create social movements, Schmidt said, “and that’s a big deal.”

On television news, there is only a limited amount of time to cover an issue, but with social media, “Any number of issues can be posted any time of day and shared” and it can quickly become a larger-scale issue, Schmidt said.

She coordinates the American Democracy Project at ISU, which is intended “to create a more civically-minded and civically-involved student body,” she said.

Tommy Nicholas, an ISU student and Vigo County volunteer coordinator for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, said he uses his Facebook page as a tool to promote the Obama campaign.

“It’s a vehicle to reach out to people to get them involved in the campaign,” he said. If he’s hosting a campaign event, organizing a phone bank or registering people to vote, he’ll invite people through Facebook.

He’s not had as much success as he’d like in getting college-age students interested. “I was more optimistic in the beginning that I would have more success,” he said. “I feel college students are apathetic to the entire political process.”

Bruce Porter, an ISU junior, uses social media — Facebook links — to some degree to follow political news, but he gets most of his information from television and newspapers.

In his opinion, politicians don’t use social media enough to get college-age students interested and involved. But Porter believes they need to use “everything,” including social media, television and newspapers, to get their word out.

Christopher Fields, a junior and social studies education major, is interested is political science and he is following the presidential election. He probably will vote for Obama, he said, “just to give him more time to fix the economy.”

He doesn’t turn to social media for his political news. He said he learns a lot from his classes, and he’ll also go to news sites on the Internet.

Social networking sites aren’t always reliable sources of information, he said, although Facebook can be a good way to share and spread news stories.

Melissa Harden, ISU junior and business management major, said she doesn’t follow politics closely although she’s trying to get more interested. “I feel a lot of stuff they talk about doesn’t affect me,” she said, but her parents try to reinforce to her that many of the issues do affect her.

When she wants to learn about news events, she goes to the CNN app on her smart phone.

Terry Casey, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology political science professor, says his impression is that social media reinforce a student’s actions or political views — but they doesn’t necessarily change that view or cause students to vote.

“That’s my impression. I can’t back it up with data,” Casey said.

Dylan Kessler, a Rose-Hulman junior from New Jersey, believes students’ political ideology is more influenced by where they grew up and how they grew up — not necessarily social media.

A Democrat, Kessler is very interested in politics and has mobile apps on his phone to read Politico and the Washington Post. He also has signed up to receive emails from the Obama campaign and he does follow a few Facebook pages dealing with politics.

Schmidt said while young people are the ones most likely to use social media, they are also the least likely to vote.

Research suggests that society has changed, and while voting was once viewed as a duty or obligation, “that public sense of civic duty has dwindled over time among young people,” she said.

Young people view voting and civic participation as a choice, and “one they don’t think they need to make,” Schmidt said.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at (812) 231-4235 or sue.loughlin@tribstar.com.

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