As Election Day grows closer, political lines are drawn, sides are taken and now, thanks to social media, showing support for a candidate has become as simple as liking a Facebook page or following a Twitter account.
Michael Smith, professor of political science, said that when it comes to paying attention to political messages on social media, source credibility is paramount. But the overall effect of social media is a positive one.
“The immediate impact of Facebook, Twitter, etc. is probably a positive one because it’s a new way for people to connect with each other,” Smith said. “We have very low voter turnout, very low levels of interest outside the politically plugged in, and this may be a new hook for younger voters or would-be voters to communicate in a way they’re comfortable with.”
But Paul Taylor, senior history and political science major, sees it differently.
“I’d say they’re (social networking sites) mostly negative because you have a lot of people who are uninformed,” Taylor said.
Taylor referenced instances in the previous election where rumors about President Barack Obama’s religion and birthplace were spread through sites like Facebook without people checking to see if there was any factual truth to the claims.
Gary Wyatt, professor of sociology and anthropology, said he felt the anonymity of the Internet is a negative aspect of social media.
“Most of what people post seems to be quite negative and seems to be hatchet job kinds of stuff, just people slinging mud,” Wyatt said. “They don’t really sign their name to it. I prefer the letter to the editor, where you state your case, and you put your name to it.”
On the other hand, Wyatt also said he feels that social media is primarily a positive thing in that it provides another information outlet for younger, more technologically savvy people.
Social media hasn’t just affected the way that people get information regarding politics, it has also changed the very nature of campaigning itself.
Smith said fundraising has been impacted by social networking as the days of mailing out donation requests have been replaced by simple “donate” links on candidates’ websites and requests for donations through Facebook or Twitter.
Wyatt also said campaigning has changed dramatically with the widespread prevalence of social media.
“You’re either in that world…with smart websites and intelligent ways of presenting yourself through Twitter or Facebook, or I don’t think you have much of a chance,” Wyatt said. “I think that trend will continue well into the future. The days of just simply shaking hands, and campaign buttons and fliers and TV spots is gone.”
As of press time on Wednesday, Obama’s official Facebook page has 31,359,559 likes, and his Twitter has 21, 308, 598 followers. Gov. Mitt Romney’s Facebook page has 10,707,362 likes and his official Twitter has 1,577,520 followers.